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MARTA plans 15% cutback in bus service

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MARTA plans 15% cutback in bus service

By JULIE B. HAIRSTON

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 03/25/04

MARTA plans to cut bus service by 15 percent this summer.

In restructuring the bus routes, the transit authority expects to eliminate 304 jobs and $11 million in expenses in the most sweeping change to MARTA service in more than 20 years.

And the cuts may be only the beginning of the public transit system's efforts to stem the flow of red ink in its $308 million operating budget.

MARTA expects to pull $30 million out of its dwindling reserves to run the trains and buses this year. Without cutting expenses or adding revenue, MARTA may use the last of its financial reserves as soon as 18 months from now.

Even as transit officials brace for a flood of criticism, MARTA board Chairman Michael Walls warned that even more cuts may be needed. An additional 10 percent reduction in service that may be required next year would be felt more directly by MARTA riders, he said.

"If something is not done before next year, the cuts will be more meaningful and more severe on our riders," Walls said.

MARTA also may consider increasing the current $1.75 basic fare if the system continues to lose money past fiscal 2006, the chairman said.

MARTA leaders will present their budget proposal to the board of directors Monday and outline the changes in bus routes.

The plan calls for eliminating four routes, combining others, removing stops that produce few riders and shortening hours on some runs. At present, 75 of MARTA's 125 bus routes run after midnight.

"A lot of those buses run empty," said Thelma Purnell, MARTA director of transit planning. Running empty buses costs $1.32 per mile, or $31 an hour, she added.

MARTA officials have been studying the bus routes for more than seven months, according to Purnell.

Overlapping cited

Over the years, MARTA officials said, bus routes have not always reflected changing land use and population shifts. In some cases, new lines have overlapped routes with waning ridership. Transit officials say the reconfiguration of bus routes will cover most of the stops with a minimum of vehicles.

"You may not have the same bus you're used to riding, but you're at least going to be within a quarter-mile of a MARTA bus," said General Manager Nathaniel Ford.

Even transit advocates acknowledge that MARTA's route structure is long overdue for an overhaul.

"With land use changing as fast as it is in the city, a lot of the routes don't make sense anymore," said Paul Grether, spokesman for Citizens for Progressive Transit, a transit riders' advocacy group. "We're hoping the resources that have been applied to these nonproductive routes can be redirected to routes with higher ridership potential."

On April 1, Citizens for Progressive Transit will launch what it's calling a "Save MARTA" campaign with a 6 p.m. meeting in the old City Council chambers at Atlanta City Hall. The organization is calling for new state or regional operating funds for MARTA, which receives no such revenue from the state.

Local funding for MARTA is provided by a 1 percent sales tax in Fulton and DeKalb counties and the city of Atlanta.

Public outcry expected

The authority has cut 727 jobs from its payroll in the past three years, according to Ford. The proposed reductions in service this summer will cut more than 300 drivers, mechanics and other workers. MARTA employs about 4,500 people.

Danny G. DuBose, acting president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732, declined comment on the pending job cuts.

The authority anticipates a wave of protest from the public.

"We do expect quite a few folks to be uncomfortable with this," Ford said. "We understand this is going to have a significant impact on people's lives and we're going to make it the best we can."

Helen McSwain, director of MARTA customer relations, said workers are anticipating as many as 2,000 additional calls a day as the service cuts are phased in. Customer service workers now get about 6,000 calls a day, she said.

Public hearings on the proposed changes in bus service will be conducted April 14, 15 and 16 at various locations in Fulton and DeKalb counties. A final decision is set to be made in June when MARTA officials adopt the fiscal 2005 budget. The new routes are expected to begin June 26.

Riders complain

Route 135 is one of 17 that will be eliminated or absorbed into other lines during the restructuring. Running six days a week, the North Shallowford bus snakes through suburban Dunwoody from the Chamblee MARTA station.

Dunwoody resident Ramon McCray, 42, said he rides the 135 "every single day" to get to his job at a furniture store, to the Veterans Affairs Hospital and to shopping for basics, including groceries. He said getting to any other MARTA bus routes would be a long walk for him.

"I paid my extra fare every time they raised it because I had confidence in their structure," McCray said. "If I'd known MARTA was going to do this, I'd never have moved to this area."

James Murphy, 50, hauled four large bags of groceries onto the 135 on Tuesday afternoon. He said he moved to the Dunwoody area from Snellville in December specifically because it offered a level of public transportation not available in Gwinnett County.

"If they cut this line, I'll have to move somewhere else," Murphy said.

Artesia Gates said this will be the second time she's been stung by MARTA. Previous changes in bus service forced Gates, then living in Stone Mountain, to get up at 3 a.m. to catch a bus to work, she said.

If the 135 route is canceled, she could be facing a $120 daily cab ride to work.

Little impact forecast

MARTA officials said only a small percentage of the 225,000 average daily riders will experience a noticeable change in their access to the system.

"The number that will be severely impacted is less than one-half of 1 percent," said Barry Farr, assistant general manager for operations.

"We've tried to avoid touching our customers [with cuts] for three years," said Ford.

Chairman Walls said he hopes the reductions in service will underscore the transit system's importance to hundreds of thousands of riders in metro Atlanta.

"We can't continue to go in the hole until all our reserves are gone," Walls said. "I hope the local metropolitan political establishment will let this be a wake-up call for what needs to be done to give MARTA adequate funding."

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Wow, this sounds like a really bad idea. Isn't cutting back on public transit going to have an effect on the local economy?

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Is this real or an idle threat. A few months ago, RIPTA (the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority) threatened some pretty drastic cutbacks. It was basically a political ploy by the TA to get the state to cough up some more money. They made an announcement, everyone freaked, the city mayors were pissed, and suddenly there was money.

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Guest donaltopablo

It is a bad idea. Generally they just extend some routes to cover the lost area and then reduce the number of times the the bus runs.

I don't think this is just a threat, this is the second or third time in the last few years MARTA has cut bus and rail service in a attempt to try to save their bottom line.

MARTA has tried some political ploys to get money out of the state, but I don't think this is one of them. The ploys didn't work and MARTA is within a couple of years go being bankrupt. BTW For the record, MARTA is the only major mass transit system not to receive any funding from the state.

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Guest donaltopablo

How does it get it's money if not from the state?  :blink:

1% sales tax paid by Fulton and Dekalb counties, the two counties where the transit system operates. Both counties have choosen not to extend that beyond I believe 2030ish, so MARTA can not issue bonds against potential sales tax revenue.

If anything, MARTA should be increasing service, not decreasing it. ATL needs mass transit.

I agree, but there is no funding for expansion. They can barely keep the system running.

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1% sales tax paid by Fulton and Dekalb counties, the two counties where the transit system operates.

1%?!? :blink: What are they Flintstone's buses where everyone shoves their feet through the floor and runs?

Regardless of what counties the agency operates in, all counties in the state benefit from a healthy transit system in Atlanta. The entire state should be chipping in. Just as the entire state, and entire nation pays for roads, regardless of if people use them.

And wait, aren't there like 20 counties in the Atlanta Metro? Don't tell me there are only two that have transit. There are other transit agencies in the other Metro counties, yes? Would it not be best from a reduction of redundancy point of view, for MARTA to take over all Metro Atlanta transit?

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I agree, but there is no funding for expansion. They can barely keep the system running.

Oh, there's funding, just no one willing to cough it up. There's always money somewhere.

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Oh, there's funding, just no one willing to cough it up. There's always money somewhere.

MARTA does get some funding from the federal government, but since they have no "future" source of revenue, they can not issue bonds, and often can not be the requirement matching funds required by the federal government.

1%?!?  What are they Flintstone's buses where everyone shoves their feet through the floor and runs?

LOL!

Regardless of what counties the agency operates in, all counties in the state benefit from a healthy transit system in Atlanta. The entire state should be chipping in. Just as the entire state, and entire nation pays for roads, regardless of if people use them.

I agree, but it seems the state doesn't feel the same way.

And wait, aren't there like 20 counties in the Atlanta Metro? Don't tell me there are only two that have transit. There are other transit agencies in the other Metro counties, yes? Would it not be best from a reduction of redundancy point of view, for MARTA to take over all Metro Atlanta transit?

Yes, 26 now actually I believe. There are 5 that offer transit, Fulton and Dekalb (MARTA - bus & heavy rail), Cobb (CCT - bus only), Gwinnett (Gwinnett Transit - bus only), and Clayton (Clayton - bus only, operated by MARTA). Clayton is a seperate transit system, but MARTA actually operates it under Clayton's name. It would make a lot of sense for MARTA to be state, or at least regionally supported and provide benefits to everyone. However, without state involvement, MARTA must rely on individual counties to approval the 1% sales tax in order to join MARTA and allow it to operate.

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Guest donaltopablo

MARTA fans organize push to save service

More funding, new awareness top priorities

By JULIE B. HAIRSTON

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 04/04/04

About 75 MARTA riders and fans gathered at Atlanta City Hall last week to launch a "Save MARTA" campaign.

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Led by Citizens for Progressive Transit, a new transit advocacy organization, the campaign is intended to boost public awareness of MARTA's financial plight and generate support for state or regional funding to help pay for its operation. MARTA is the only urban transit system of its size in the United States that does not receive some operating funds from the state.

Faced with a potential $54 million operating deficit in fiscal 2005, which begins July 1, MARTA recently announced a 15 percent reduction in its bus service. Further cuts probably will happen next year as the transit authority struggles to stay afloat financially.

Paul Grether, policy vice president of Citizens for Progressive Transit, urged supporters to spread the word that mass transit is vital to Atlanta's future, both economically and environmentally. Atlanta needs more transit, not less, he said.

"New transit is not feasible without MARTA," Grether said.

The group also heard from representatives of the Metropolitan Atlanta Transportation Equity Coalition, the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, the DeKalb County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and PEDS, a metro Atlanta pedestrian advocacy organization.

Sally Flocks, president of PEDS, said she is concerned about the effect MARTA bus cutbacks will have on regional efforts to ease traffic congestion.

"Going to existing users and giving them good service is the best way to get cars off the road," Flocks said.

Citizens for Progressive Transit asked supporters to sign a petition urging state leaders to find new funding for MARTA. Members of the organization plan to distribute fliers on MARTA buses and trains this week. The group also is planning programs on potential solutions to MARTA's financial crisis.

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Guest donaltopablo

Another article discussing the need to help MARTA out of it's current finacial situation. I think it's important for the region that we move forward.

State needs leader who'll steer transit out of trouble

Published on: 04/07/2004

The transportation network for the Atlanta region is broken; it's run by a Balkanized hodgepodge of competing agencies with often conflicting agendas. That's why many regional transportation projects that hold great promise rarely live up to their potential.

And it looks like that's just what will happen with the commuter express bus service the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority hopes to launch in June.

Months ago, GRTA officials assumed that after suburban passengers paid their fares -- $3 for a one-way ticket to downtown Atlanta and $5 round-trip -- they would be able to transfer to MARTA buses and trains for free. MARTA passengers, who pay $1.75, would conceivably also be able to board GRTA buses at no extra charge under a reciprocal fare agreement to be worked out later.

Well, "later" has arrived, and officials at financially-strapped MARTA are balking at the proposed quid pro quo. MARTA argues that its passengers would, in effect, be subsidizing GRTA riders because it's predicted that many more of them would be riding MARTA than the other way around. Meanwhile, MARTA has been steadily cutting its own bus service because of a crippling budget crisis.

Anyone who has lived here long enough knows the seeds of that crisis were planted about 30 years ago when the city of Atlanta and the counties of Fulton and DeKalb were the only jurisdictions that agreed to collect a penny sales tax to help pay for MARTA's operation. That obsolete formula is still in place although 12 percent of MARTA riders live in counties that don't contribute to the system financially. No one has found the political courage to rectify, or for that matter, even address that funding inequity.

As a result, few county officials in the outlying suburbs are willing to risk their political careers by entering into any arrangement that could be construed as "bailing out" MARTA. That's also why GRTA officials had to essentially bribe some of them into joining the express bus system by threatening to withhold their respective shares of transportation funding for county road improvements.

This stifling myopia could wind up blunting the effectiveness of the GRTA bus program, which is needed to alleviate regional traffic congestion and reduce air pollution by offering carbound suburban commuters other options. And it will only hurt MARTA's already-battered reputation, lending credence to those who believe the public transit system is a waste of money, ignoring the fact that it serves more than 500,000 people every day who often have no other transportation options.

MARTA and GRTA are scheduled to meet tomorrow in hopes of striking a compromise. But it may take an elected official with broader authority and vision to get both agencies working to quickly resolve the bus fare dispute and others that will inevitably arise. Gov. Sonny Perdue, who wields great influence over the GRTA board, comes to mind, but his Zen-like, hands-off approach to regional transportation hasn't been much help. The absence of leadership on this issue is intolerable and will only get worse as the region grows.

This system has been busted long enough. Although Perdue can't be blamed for creating the problems, it's time his administration stepped up and took some responsibility for correcting them.

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The transportation network for the Atlanta region is broken; it's run by a Balkanized hodgepodge of competing agencies with often conflicting agendas. That's why many regional transportation projects that hold great promise rarely live up to their potential.

That is the precise reason why Detroit has never gotten a regional mass transit system started. Hopefully Atlanta will be able to work things out better than Detroit has ever been able to.

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