The transit system, which is supported by DeKalb taxpayers, is facing a $120 million revenue shortfall for its 2011 financial year that starts July 1 and must reduce its size by 25 percent to 30 percent.
Harold Buckley, who represents south DeKalb County on the MARTA board, said this week that the transit system has to downsize to meet revenues.
“The people don’t realize the magnitude of the situation that is facing us,” he said. “This is a major, major issue.”
To help balance its budget, MARTA is considering significant transit service cuts and employee layoffs, and the proposed service cuts in South DeKalb are very extensive.
A staff proposal presented to the MARTA board on Feb. 16 calls for the elimination of bus routes 7, 9, 18, 22, 24, 28, 96, 118, 119 and 216 that serve South DeKalb. Service will be discontinued to many neighborhoods and some of the remaining 13 routes will be modified to serve segments of some of the routes.
Sharon Scott, who lives on Peachcrest Road in the part of Decatur that is currently served by the 96-Snapfinger Woods Drive bus, called the cuts “ridiculous.”
“That’s crazy,” she said while waiting for the 96 bus at the Kensington station on Wednesday afternoon. “People rely on that 96 bus. I don’t think that is right.”
Scott, who has taken the bus for 18 years and started walking with a cane three years ago because of a back problem, says she takes the bus three days a week to her job on Lawrenceville Highway and on her days off to shop and pay her bills.
“I just took it yesterday to Georgia Power to pay my utility bill,” she said. “How am I going to get around? My legs ain’t that good anymore.”
Scott said it already takes her two hours to travel from her home to downtown Decatur and that cutting routes is only going to add to commuters’ travel time.
“I am so sick of MARTA,” she said, “They don’t run the buses so that you can connect. You spend a lot of time waiting around. This is only going to make it worse.”
She next wanted to know why she will lose her bus service.
“Where is the stimulus money the president gave them?” she asked. “If the president gave them money, why are they cutting service. They haven’t fixed anything. The elevators don’t work. I want to know what they did with that money.”
Last year, MARTA used $45 million of the $100 million in federal stimulus funds it received to balance its budget.
On weekdays, MARTA’s 23 routes serving south DeKalb County carry 45,141 passengers. On Saturdays, it transports 26,711 and on Sundays, 19,220.
MARTA spokesman Lyle Harris said Tuesday that eliminating the 10 South DeKalb routes will save MARTA $7.1 million.
Octavia Payne of Lithonia, who frequently rides routes 186 and 86, was disappointed to hear of the proposed cuts. She was waiting on the 118 at a Memorial Drive stop across from the DeKalb County Jail on Wednesday.
“Why do they always cut service in our community,” Payne asked. “I bet they aren’t cutting in Buckhead.”
Buckley said that MARTA has to cut service proportionately in DeKalb and Fulton counties and in Atlanta. On March 31, the Clayton County transit system that was operated by MARTA will cease operation.
“By law all areas have to be cut by proportion,” Buckley said. “The magnitude of the reductions is going to affect so many people.”
Community meeting set
MARTA is gathering public comments about the proposed changes through the end of March. Its service plan for the 2011 capital and operating budget has be finalized by April 19.
It is hosting two more community meetings on Feb. 20 at 10 a.m. to noon and 3 to 5 p.m. at its headquarters at 2424 Piedmont Road in Atlanta.
On March 1, MARTA officials will be at the DeKalb County Maloof Auditorium, 1300 Commerce Drive in downtown Decatur, for a 6- to-8 p.m. meeting. Buckley said it is important that MARTA bus riders and civic and community groups attend those meetings and offer input.
“We need to hear from the community how this proposal will impact them,” he said. “They may have ideas that we haven’t considered. We want to hear from them.”
Buckley said MARTA officials are also available to make presentations to community groups.
MARTA gets 52 percent of its revenues from sales taxes from Fulton and DeKalb. Buckley says the forecast for sales tax revenues has been revised downward twice.
“People are not spending,” he said. “People have lost their jobs. It’s the economy. People don’t have money to spend.”
Buckley, who has been on the MARTA board for 25 years, says he has never seen a situation as dire as the one the system is facing this year. “We have to act,” he said. “The shortfall is very deep and we don’t feel that there is going to be financial relief from the state. We have to resize our system based on our abilities to pay.”
For more information, visit www.its marta.com or call 404-848-5026.