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Thursday, February 11, 2010

MARTA mulls drastic bus route cuts, prays for legislative action

click to enlarge Less bus routes? More wait times?
  • Less bus routes? More wait times?

UPDATE: Some proposed modifications that have already undergone public comment and board approval will take effect in April. MARTA tells us the current round of meetings and route changes discussed below will go into effect in August. I've altered the text below to note the correction.

Thanks partly to the economy and some Gold Dome hubris, MARTA is currently facing a $120 million deficit in its operating budget. And in an effort to balance its books, the transit agency is once again considering service cuts — this time to more than 100 bus routes.

And if the transit agency can't find cash, most of its bus route or other service changes could change as early as April would go into effect in August.

What's worse: For people who rely on the buses to shuttle them to work, school or errands, more than 60 routes could be discontinued. Riders would have to jump on other routes or find another way to get around.

The transit agency is holding community forums to hear public comments on Feb. 20 at its Lindbergh headquarters and March 1 at its North Fulton Service Center. If you rely on public transportation and can attend, you might want to drop by.

If not, the transit agency is asking strap-hangers and transit fans to contact state lawmakers. MARTA's compiled a handy spreadsheet of routes that could be cut or modified. We've uploaded an .xls copy for your reading pleasure. If you live in Decatur and are interested in proposed cuts that could impact that city, Decatur Metro has those details for you.

All this comes at a time as MARTA — now, understandably, armed with extra lobbyists — makes a case at the Gold Dome for additional funding, perhaps even state investment. (MARTA is the only transit agency in the country that receives no operating funds from the state.) General Manager Beverly Scott has already warned lawmakers that the agency will possibly consider implementing fares based on distance or time-of-day travels.

(We hope that might be a wake-up call for state lawmakers who represent Metro Atlanta's outlying counties. Some of those areas' commuters get to use the service but aren't burdened by the one-cent sales tax paid by DeKalb and Fulton County residents to operate the system. Whether it's increased fares on MARTA, paying a sales tax to build more projects, or burning gas in gridlock, their constituents are gonna have to pay to get around.)

MARTA officials, however, might be feeling a little chipper this morning. According to documents obtained by Jim Galloway, Gov. Sonny Perdue's transportation plan would possibly include a three-year suspension on MARTA's 50/50 spending restrictions. No word what kind of details could be attached any sort of compromise.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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