THE ATLANTA PUBLIC SECTOR ALLIANCE
OUR POSITION ON REGIONAL TRANSIT GOVERNANCE
The Atlanta Public Sector Alliance is a grassroots, human rights organization that is dedicated to protecting, restoring, and expanding the public sector. We believe that the public sector is designed to provide basic human rights and quality of life to all people. Governmental authorities provide services that are owned and operated in the public interest. The public sector is fundamental to the functioning of our society.
In April of 2008, the Atlanta Transit Riders Union, a committee of the Atlanta Public Sector Alliance along with a graduate student from Georgia Tech produced a “Transit Riders’ Vision for Regional Transit in Atlanta; A Plan from the Perspective of Dependent Transit Riders.” Two points from that plan that we believe are relevant to today’s discussion about regional transit is the need to “Keep Public Transit Public” and to have a governing board that is accountable and representative of the constituencies it serves.
First, we believe that in order to maintain public accountability, high quality service, and decent working conditions for employees, public transit should not be privatized or contracted out to private for-profit companies. Privatization transfers public assets to businesses in the private sector, replacing public participation and institutional accountability with a profit motive. It has been proven that privatization does not guarantee government savings; does not mean lower transit fares; and does not improve overall service. It is bad for democracy and it is bad for workers.
Currently, the Cobb County and Gwinnett County transit systems are operated by a private contractor, Veolia Transportation, Inc. Veolia is a multi-national corporation based in France and is the largest private transportation provider in North America. In October, an AJC column by a Gwinnett bus operator stated that transit problems in the system include not enough routes and service stopping too early which forces some riders to walk 5-6 miles to get home.
We believe that any regional transit system should be owned and operated by public agencies. Service should not be contracted out to private companies, who by their very nature sacrifice quality, safety, and worker’s wages for profit. Given what MARTA was intended to be, it is our position that MARTA should be the sole planner and provider of regional transit. MARTA management should be held accountable for its finances and its decision-making but it is also true that it is the largest transit system in the country that does not receive operating assistance from the state. This is responsible for the financial crisis that MARTA currently faces.
Second, we believe that any governing regional transit board should be a directly elected so it is accountable to the voters and riders. The board should use weighted voting based on the population they represent. The board should only include representatives from jurisdictions that fund the system. All campaign contributions from contractors obtaining or seeking contracts from the agency should be banned. In addition, the Amalgamated Transit Union and transit dependent riders, in particular, the disability community should have representation on the board. Board members should be required to attend all public hearings. They should be required to use the system on a weekly basis.
Board meetings and public hearings should be held on weekday evenings or weekends and have childcare available for parents. All board meetings and public hearing materials should be published in English, Spanish, any other represented language, large print, and Braille or audio versions. Sign language, Spanish, and any other requested language translators should be present at all meetings.
The Atlanta metro area deserves the kind of transit service that only a public agency can deliver. An agency that is controlled by the community it serves. An agency that recognizes its obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the needs of all transit riders, especially the transit dependent.