David Griswold put the prospect of MARTA bus route cutbacks in plain terms as he sat waiting for a bus in Decatur on March 15.
“It’s messed up,” he said. “It’s going to cause a lot of problems.”
Griswold, 32, of Decatur said he works in a restaurant off Candler Road, a job he’s had for just three months. He said he also uses MARTA’s bus system to visit with friends and travel generally around the city.
He said he heard about a recent plan to cut back bus service by reducing or eliminating certain routes – nearly half of those in DeKalb, MARTA officials said – but hasn’t looked to see if he’ll be affected. He said he often uses bus routes 116, 114 and 32. All of them have cuts proposed.
“I really ain’t making any money right now,” Griswold said. Even worse, “it’d be really hard to find a job on a bus line.”
The cutbacks represent a dramatic reshuffling of public transportation service throughout the Atlanta area. As the economy has worsened, revenue from a 1-cent sales tax has plummeted, and over the last decade, expenditures have outpaced revenues. Revenues last year were $332.9 million. Expenditures were $382.3 million.
That said, the MARTA system doesn’t usually turn a profit save for a stretch between fiscal years 1991 and 1997, MARTA data show. Traditionally, those deficits were relatively small, though fiscal year 2003’s deficit was $21.4 million.
Had MARTA not made serious cost cutting measures, this year’s projected deficit would have ballooned to $109.6 million, data show. Next year, MARTA is predicting a $120 million deficit, and in fiscal year 2012, the system is projecting a $127.6 million deficit. The budget reductions have already been approved by a heavily cash-strapped legislature, and MARTA officials are asking metro residents to contact legislators to restore service in the future.
“Nationwide trends in population and demographics, land use and development and energy consumption, along with significant public interest in environmental sustainability and increasing economic competition between states and metropolitan areas all provide a compelling case for greater investment in public transportation,” said a MARTA document titled “The Case for Investment.”
Griswold said he uses bus route 32, also named Eastland/Bouldercrest. Under MARTA’s proposed cuts, the route would no longer service Hill Street. He also uses route 114, also known as Columbia Drive. Service there will no longer be provided along Clifton Springs Road between Clifton Springs Health Center and Clifton Church Road.
Jessica Rodriguez, 25, of Decatur also heard about the proposed cuts. She, too, said she wasn’t sure whether her usual routes would be affected. She said she often uses route 125 or Avondale/Northlake. Service on that route will no longer be provided on Montreal Circle. She also uses the 114.
“Most people ain’t got cars these days,” she said as she waited for the bus. She said she worries about what she might need to do if one of her routes gets cut. “I would have to dial 411 and call Obama. I’d be stuck.”
Ebony Taylor, 25, of Decatur also uses the bus to get around. She said she doesn’t have a job, and the bus is her only means of searching for one. Reduced routes, for her, also means reduced job options, she said.
The cuts may even affect teenagers. Briana Foster, 17, of Stone Mountain was waiting for the bus March 15, clutching a silver purse. She said she uses the bus for two things: shopping and school. Foster said she is getting her GED from a facility in Atlanta, adding that she uses route 34, also known as Gresham Park. Service on that route will no longer be provided on Vicki Lane, Flagstone Drive, Flintwood Drive, Rollingwood Lane, Boulderview Drive, Horse Shoe Drive Sombrero Way and Corral Drive.
She wondered whether she’ll be able to continue to get to school easily.
“It might be hard,” she said.