Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Clayton losing buses

Clayton County, Georgia, located just south of Atlanta, appears to be about to lose transit service. The main economic engine of the county is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Over the last eight years, the county has funded a local bus system known as C-Tran. Lately, C-Tran has been operated under contract to MARTA. But the county is out of money. And March 31, buses are expected to stop rolling. For county workers at the Airport, suddenly they'll have no connection to their jobs. Students at Clayton State University will lose their transit connection. Even the Georgia State Archives, located in Clayton County, will be cut off from Georgia's transit-dependent population.

It's a shame that Clayton views transit as a program they can cut. Under Georgia law, the county is not required to provide transit service, and in their current budget situation, something has to give. But in a rapidly urbanizing county like Clayton, transit should not be sacrificed.

Of course, in many states local governments might look to the state for help, but those pleas will fall on deaf ears in Georgia's legislature. The region knows it needs more transit, but has always faced difficulty in agreeing on how to fund transit and which projects to fund. And Metro Atlanta has long been plagued not only by a lack of state support, but by general animosity from the state toward alternative transportation.

Clayton's history with the modern era of transit goes back to 1965. That year, voters in Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett counties approved the MARTA Act. Only Cobb County refused to let MARTA plan a transit system. The legislation creating MARTA limited the agency's jurisdiction to those five counties.

In 1968 a rail and bus system plan failed in Fulton and DeKalb counties. Three years later, in 1971, MARTA went back to the voters. This time, they proposed a larger, more regional system, and asked Clayton and Gwinnett voters for approval as well. But Claytonites and Gwinnettians turned MARTA down. In 1972, Clayton did so again.

Finally in 2001, buses came again to Clayton. Local service was provided on a few routes, with a connection to the MARTA rail system at the Airport station. Later, GRTA Xpress buses began to serve the county. Those peak-direction commuter buses will continue to operate.

But the bus era seems to be coming to a close in Clayton County. Unless a new funding source can be found by March of next year, transit riders in Clayton will be left waiting at the bus stop.

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