CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — Bus service has finally returned to the county it should never have left in the first place.
That is the overall sentiment of Clayton County residents and activists who fought the past five years to provide a connection mechanism to the rest of the greater Atlanta region. The county welcomed the first ever expansion of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) services into the south Atlanta suburbs on the first day of Spring, March 21, 2015. C-TRAN, Clayton County’s former bus service, shut down operations in 2010 amid the fiscal turbulence resulting from the Great Recession.
MARTA is reportedly expecting heavy ridership of about 12,000 trips per day. Nearly 25 percent of Clayton County residents live below poverty level, and 7.2 percent don’t have a household vehicle, according to officials.
It’s the very first new county expansion in MARTA’s 35-year history. Last November, Clayton County residents voted to have services now enjoyed in Fulton and DeKalb counties via a a penny sales tax for MARTA service.
The passage of the bill did not come without some spirited in-fighting during county commission meetings. Some residents were opposed to paying the full tax without a guaranteed plan for rail service (also called trains).
Commissioners assured that rail service is forthcoming in the near future. Norfolk Southern, for example, has authorized a study to see if there’s enough right of way to lay MARTA rail tracks in the county that sits just below Atlanta and houses the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
The county is still eyeing a completion date of 2017.
Members of the Friends of Clayton Transit Coalition, including Georgia Stand Up and The Sierra Club, rode in the bus leaving from College Park. Georgia Stand Up Executive Director Deborah Scott said it was a “great” ride.
“We had a full party bus on the way here,” Scott told the Clayton County Daily News.. “We’re just excited.”
The 40-foot brand-new vehicles seat 45 people and can hold up to about 55 riders if you include standing passengers.
Clayton County Chairman Jeffrey Turner has long championed the import of MARTA and/or the establishment of some sort of public transportation in the county, saying that it will translate into substantial growth in the long term.