Patrons of MARTA at a public hearing in DeKalb last week said proposed fare hikes need to accompany improved services.
“I know that there’s a lot of people … who would be willing to go up $3 or $4,” Delilah Black, of Lithonia, said. “Y’all went up last year. That makes no sense to keep going up every year. These fare increases are absurd.”
MARTA’s proposed budget calls for a base fare increase from $2 to $2.50. Weekly MARTA passes would increase $6.75 to $23.75, while the cost for monthly passes would rise from $68 to $95. Monthly passes for MARTA Mobility, the transit’s advanced reservation, paratransit service for persons with disabilities would increase to $122, up from $115.
“MARTA’s fiscal challenges remain very real,” said Walter Jones, the transit authority’s director of financial management and budget. Transit service has already been reduced during the past two years.
“It is necessary for MARTA to increase fares,” Jones said. “Raising fares is the most effective way to maintain current transit service levels.”
In its proposed 2012 operating budget of $413.76 million and capital budget of $185.5 million, salaries for all workers would continue to be frozen for a fourth straight year. MARTA also plans to modify bus routes 3, 25, 50, 51, 99 and 181.
Francine English, a senior with disabilities, said she already cannot afford to ride MARTA Mobility. And when Mobility is late for her doctors’ appointment, she has to pay $20 for being late.
Terence Courtney, coordinator of the Atlanta Public Sector Alliance, a union of transit riders, told MARTA board members that the proposed fare increases were unnecessary.
“They won’t solve MARTA’s fundamental financial problems,” Courtney said. “MARTA’s response is the wrong response.”
Courtney said the number of transit riders decreases with each fare increase.
“This hurts riders and workers in their pocketbooks,” Courtney said. “Families won’t be able to earn incomes, won’t be able to get to work, healthcare [or] schools. We believe this violates our human right to mobility.”
Another rider, Herman Smith, said previous schedule and service changes have been very disruptive.
“You have impacted unemployment over the entire city of Atlanta,” Smith said. “People have lost their jobs because somebody has screwed up the schedule of the buses.”
Some MARTA patrons complained about bathrooms being closed to riders throughout the MARTA system.
“It is a civil right for us to have access to bathrooms,” Smith said. “It is humanly abusive. It is medically abusive for us to be paying the money we are paying and for the increases that you are announcing for us to be denied access to the bathroom.
“This is where civil rights were born,” Smith said. “We need our civil rights to transportation restored.”
“If you’re going to raise the fare, please do something to better the service,” English said. “It’s really an abomination that you all raise the fare and the service is getting crappier.”
MARTA’s fixed route bus drivers need to go through sensitivity training, said patron Bernard Baker.
“Every time I ride my bus I have drivers get real mad because I’m in a chair and I’m getting on a bus,” Baker said. “I have the right to ride the bus just like anybody else. As a matter of fact, I fought to get to ride the bus under Americans with Disabilities Act.”
MARTA patrons complained of poor service, repeated breakdowns, dirty seats and seatbelts.
“We’re not going to continue to keep spending money and then nothing’s clean,” one rider said. “You say ‘no eating, no drinking’ but then you turn around and put a vending machine in every station.”
If approved by the MARTA board, bus service changes would be implemented on Sept. 24, and fare increases would take effect Oct. 2.