Light rain and heavy odds did not stop some 300 MARTA supporters and employees from marching on the state Capitol on Tuesday morning in a plea for financial assistance for the metro area’s beleaguered transit system.
“What is more crucial than to keep us going to work, going to the doctor and going to school?” asked DeKalb County NAACP President Yvonne Hawks.
But the state is unlikely to deliver. Top officials say the money is just not there, though MARTA backers say the financial repercussions will be greater if the transit authority is forced to cover a $120 million operations deficit on its own.
Expecting just that, MARTA is preparing to slash up to 30 percent of its service and also may have to eliminate as many as 1,000 workers.
“If you’re not here for the long haul, you’re making a mistake,” community activist and former MARTA board member John Evans told the crowd during a press conference at the Five Points station downtown. “It’s going to be tough.”
“They don’t want to deal with us,” he said. “We want to show them that they have to deal with us.”
Laurel Paget-Seekins, vice chair of ACT Now, a grass-roots effort to save existing MARTA lines, said she’s hopeful the last-minute lobbying will stir state legislators to action.
“My optimism comes in waves,” the Georgia Tech Ph.D. student said. It crested Tuesday, when ACT Now signed up 210 new members at the Five Points rally.
“I had to turn away folks at the end because I ran out of forms,” she said. “People are very frustrated. We’re trying to channel the anger into something constructive.”
Failure to secure funding from the state would be a blow, Paget-Seekins said, but it might help refocus attention on the need for public transportation in the future. She noted that St. Louis County voters approved a half-cent sales tax earlier this month to restore previously eliminated bus lines.
“Maybe it’ll be one of those things where you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” she said.