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Atlanta's Proposed Transit Fare Hike Will Hit Poor and Blacks Hardest

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The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) committee voted 7-1 to raise the basic fare from $2 to $2.50. The regular one-way fare on MARTA is up from $1.00 in 1992.   It also proposes to hike monthly pass fees from $68 to $95.   The MARTA Board of Directors will vote on the final budget on Monday June 6.  If the proposed budget is approved, the fare increases would go into effect on October 2, 2011.

Atlanta is no Black Mecca for residents who depend on MARTA.   This myth should be exploded seeing so many Black Atlantan left stranded on the side of the road as their transit riders in Montgomery, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and other major cities.   Atlanta is following the national trend. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reports that 84 percent of the transit systems have raised fares, cut service, or both in the past year. MARTA's fare hike will hit Atlanta's poor, black, disabled, and transit dependent riders hardest.

A 2006 rider survey revealed that 76 percent of MARTA's rail and bus riders are African Americans and other people of color. More than 63 percent of users have a household income of less than $30,000. Only Fulton and DeKalb County residents pay for the up keep and expansion of MARTA with a one-cent sales tax. MARTA is projected to have a $588-$634 million shortfall over the next decade.

MARTA is the ninth largest transit system in the country and the only large system that does not receive any significant financial support from the state. Historically, Metro Atlanta's transportation policy was driven largely by highway robbery and highway robbery policies that keep the system underfunded.

MARTA is the only means of transport for thousands of Atlantans.   Fare hikes and reduced service will no doubt isolate a significant share of MARTA's most dependable riders from major activity centers, including job centers.   African Americans make a disproportionate share of this impacted population.   The economic isolation of Black Atlanta is complicated by inadequate public transit (limited, unaffordable, or inaccessible service and routes, and security and safety concerns), lack of personal transportation (no privately owned car available to travel to work), and spatial mismatch (location of suitable jobs in areas that are inaccessible by public transportation).

Black Atlantans are already the most isolated group when it comes to proximity to jobs. B lack/white residential segregation plays a major role in creating a spatial mismatch for black residence and the location of jobs centers. The majority of entry-level jobs in metro Atlanta are not within a quarter-mile of public transportation. Only 11.3 percent of Metro Atlanta's jobs are located within a 3-mile radius of the CBD, 38.1 percent are located within a 10-mile radius, and 61.9 percent are located outside the 10-mile ring.

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The transit crisis will likely persist in Metro Atlanta as long as we continue to have regional transportation in name only--with the poor and most vulnerable populations paying the highest cost in terms of limited mobility.   This is not smart growth.   It is a recipe for expanding the wealth gap between "haves" and "have nots."  

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Robert D. Bullard is Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. His most recent book is entitled "The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How the Government Response to Disaster Endangers (more...)

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What is the solution to this problem?Raise taxes?&... by Doc McCoy on Sunday, Jun 5, 2011 at 1:18:59 PM