Clayton County pulled the plug on its bus system in spite of the fact that local transit has traditionally been led by local government. In Georgia, 127 counties and towns run some form of transit, from big-city trains down to small-town on-call shuttles, according to the state Department of Transportation. Special transit for the handicapped and medical visits might survive, but come Thursday Clayton will be the only one of metropolitan Atlanta's five core counties without any regular local transit.When gasoline prices spike, people will turn to public transit again. Where will people turn when there aren't any buses?
The state is reluctant to supplement local budgets for operating transit, unlike most of its peer states with major systems like MARTA. Some neighbors with smaller systems fund operations. The Charlotte Area Transit System receives state funds for operations, budgeted at $13 million next year, and a local sales tax dedicated to mass transit, according to Charlotte's system.
Yet there is an exception to the state's hard-line philosophy on operating transit: Georgia taxpayers, including C-Tran passengers, are helping fund a state-run Xpress bus service for suburbanites' long-haul commutes.
Caught in the middle are the passengers, 65 percent of whom say they have no access to a car. Interviews with bus passengers this month showed a section of the metro population that faces life-changing consequences from loss of transportation. They called it "a tragedy. They called it "crazy." Some were spending big sums to break leases and move near MARTA. Some expected to lose their jobs. Others conceded that they simply were at a loss as to what to do.
Transit-oriented communities are cleaner, more pleasant places to live, and effective public transit provides access to essential services and employment for broad segments of the community.
[William] Millar, the American Transit Association president, said that every dollar invested in public transit generates about four dollars in the economy.
Funding public transit allows people who can't drive, including the elderly and those too poor to own car, to participate in society, he added.
"It’s really a basic question of values," he said.