MARTA Bill Opponents Try Channeling Rider Frustration to Gold Dome

A group of MARTA employees and transit advocates are urging riders to oppose a bill making its way through the legislature.

The bill would fundamentally restructure the way MARTA does business – privatizing major operations, shifting board power from south Fulton County to north Fulton, and cutting employee benefits.   

Thursday morning at Five Points MARTA station in downtown Atlanta, MARTA bus driver Rufus Silas handed out flyers and asked for signatures of support.

“All your tax dollars that you done spent over the years to build this company, they’re going to give to their good ol’ boy friends. They don’t care nothing about you or I.”

Silas is a member of the MARTA union. He stands to lose health and pension benefits if the bill passes.

However with riders, Silas focused mostly on the impact of privatization of key functions like paratransit service and payroll.

The bill’s supporters say it’ll make the agency more efficient and save tens of millions of dollars. But Silas believes it’ll have the opposite effect.

“First thing that’s going to happen is the price is going to go up and the service is going to go down so we jut trying to educate the community on what’s going on.” 

That resonated with riders like Gloria Thomspon.

“I just don’t want to see MARTA go up with the prices anymore.”

But for others, the potential impact of privatization either went over their head or was flat-out ignored.

In one exchange, rider Robin Martin vented to union member David Ward.

“Why aren’t you running more trains more frequently so people aren’t packed like sardines. When I see something like that what I think is ‘they don’t give a damn and they don’t care.'”

But Ward insisted their hands were tied by state lawmakers. He said the state contributed no funding to the system while imposing onerous spending requirements.

“Drivers do not control the schedule. But what we going to do is we going to take this service back over starting with this.”

Ashley Robbins of Georgians for Better Transit said it’s a tough sell because MARTA riders have been mistreated so long.

“They seem so disenfranchised but that’s what we’re out here trying to do is help them take back awareness and how these things affect them.”

The MARTA restructuring bill has cleared the House and is currently in committee in the Senate.