MARTA’s big win in Clayton to impact Atlanta region on micro, macro levels

By Maria Saporta

As the votes in Clayton County began flowing like a landslide in MARTA’s favor Tuesday night, Dr. Lawanda Falami could hardly contain her excitement.

“No more Mama pool for me,” said Falami, who has lived in Clayton County for 40 years. She proceeded to put her hand up in the air to high five anyone who would high five her back.

Clayton County, south of  Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, has been without transit ever since 2010 when the economically-challenged county decided to no longer subsidize its C-Tran bus service.

So for the past several years, Falami has been driving as many as 38 kids to bus stops in Fulton County so they can get to school or to jobs or directly to destinations such as college.

Because even when bus service existed in Clayton, it was limited. So Falami said she has been driving “Mama pool” for the better part of 11 years because “I wanted to make sure they could get to work or school.”

Clayton’s overwhelming vote in MARTA’s favor Tuesday night implications were extraordinarily significant from the most micro level to the most macro level for the Atlanta region.

Roberta Abdul-Salaam, founder of Friends of Clayton Transit, thanks all member partners (Photos by Maria Saporta)

Roberta Abdul-Salaam, founder of Friends of Clayton Transit, thanks all member partners (Photos by Maria Saporta)

It literally will change the lives of citizens in Clayton County — especially those who don’t have a car or who can not drive for whatever reason. It certainly will change Falami’s life and the lives of all the students she’s been helping for years.

“This is a blessing for me today,” Falami said. “It will make sure our students can get to where they need to go. And I am free. I am free from my cars.”

State Rep. Valencia Stovall (D – District 24) said she was so excited by the fact that “residents now will have more options.” Clayton State University alone, which experienced a drop in enrollment when C-Tran was discontinued, stands to benefit, she said.

Dr. Thomas Hyne, president of Clayton State University, called the vote results “an important action for the economic future of Clayton County.”

When C-Tran went out of business in 2010, more than 700 students were affected by the loss of the bus service.

“We know that hundreds will benefit from the reintroduction of transit through MARTA in the very near future,” Hyne said. “It’s a new day.”

Enjoying a victory (left to right) - MARTA's Keith Parker, Stand Up's Deborah Scott, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and MARTA Chairman Robbie Ashe

Enjoying a victory (left to right) – MARTA’s Keith Parker, Stand Up’s Deborah Scott, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and MARTA Chairman Robbie Ashe

Tangela Benjamin, assistant principal of Forest Park High School, said Clayton joining MARTA would open many doors to students in the county.

“For us, it will give our students opportunities to participate fully in after school activities and Saturday activities,” she said. “It also will offer them employment opportunities.”

When the first returns appeared on a large video screen at a “Power of the Penny” victory part at Sjyboxx Restaurant and Sports Bar on Mount Zion Parkway in Morrow, the percentage of those in favor of joining MARTA was more than 71 percent. That percentage stayed above 70 percent the whole night.

By the end of the night – when 59 out of 60 precincts in Clayton had reported – the percentage had climbed to 73.72 percent in favor of MARTA (46,496 to 16,571). Officially they were voting to add a penny sales tax to join the MARTA system and become a full-fledged member of the transit system.

The vote was significant on a macro level as well.

Celebrating a win: Charlton Bivins - Clayton education board member; Clayton Chairman Jeff Turner; MARTA CEO Keith Parker; Friends of Clayton Transit Roberta Abdul-Salaam; and MARTA Chairman Robbie Ashe

Celebrating a win: Charlton Bivins – Clayton education board member; Clayton Chairman Jeff Turner; MARTA CEO Keith Parker; Friends of Clayton Transit Roberta Abdul-Salaam; and MARTA Chairman Robbie Ashe

Friends of Clayton Transit held an Election Watch Party at the Riverdale Town Center at 7200 Church St.

By the end of the evening, striking posters were being passed out with an illustration of a Rosa Parks on a bus. “WE MADE HISTORY in Clayton County” – the poster read with a listing of dozens of organizations that were part of Friends of Clayton Transit.

Roberta Abdul-Salaam, founder and president of Friends, thanked everyone for the blood, sweat and tears that they had shared over the past many months and years to bring transit back to Clayton.

In MARTA’s 43-year history, Clayton is only the third county to join the rapid transit system. Many people attending both parties Tuesdays evening saw Clayton’s vote as the beginning of a new wave to adopt transit throughout the Atlanta region.

“Tonight is the largest expansion of the MARTA system in its history,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told the raucous crowd in Riverdale. “I just wanted to be with you tonight. God bless you all.”

Clayton State’s Hyne said he hoped the vote indicated that a “transportation mix was in the future for all of Georgia.”

David Emory of Citizens for Progressive Transit keeps a close eye on the returns

David Emory of Citizens for Progressive Transit keeps a close eye on the returns

For several people watching the returns, Clayton’s election results were the highpoint of the evening as Republicans kept their clean sweep in all statewide offices in Georgia.

When someone observed that Georgia may not yet be a blue state, MARTA board Chair Robbie Ashe chimed in: “but Clayton is an orange, yellow and blue county” – referring to MARTA’s tri-color banner.

Earlier in the evening, MARTA General Manager did not want to jinx the outcome by making any predictions – saying he would be happy with 50 percent plus 1.

Of course, political observers have said that if the MARTA vote was a landslide, it would help sell the case for transit throughout the region and at the state legislature.

One of the happiest leaders on Tuesday evening was Jeff Turner, chairman of the Clayton County Commission.

“The people have spoken. We are above 72 percent, and I believe that may still go up,” said Turner, who added that the Clayton Commission’s resolution was to give citizens an opportunity to vote.

“I campaigned on making this happen,” Turner said about why he ran for chairman in the first place. “I see this as correcting a wrong, and the wrong was that the prior board took transit away from Clayton County. We have brought it back.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

10 replies
  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    The decision of Clayton County voters to join MARTA by an overwhelming margin is a very positive development indeed for the critically important issue of multimodal transportation in Metro Atlanta and Georgia in general (particularly transit).Report

  2. Fed Up Resident says:

    Just another reason to move out of Clayton County.I have lived here for 25 years and have watched it decline steadily.I went to elementary, middle, high, and college here.It used to be a nice county.But now, I can’t even go to the gas station down the road from my house without being asked 3 or 4 times for a dollar so someone can get a cigarillo or a beer.When C-Tran was in place, it was even worse.You had elements with no business in the county causing trouble and making the crime rate increase as well as decreasing home values.
     I believe people are quick to turn a blind eye to those statistics and make the minority case for people needing to get to their jobs, doctors, or wherever they are currently having trouble getting to.It’s just an emotional argument, not factual based.
     Or, maybe I’m just racist.That seems to be the easy way to get people not to oppose anything these days.
     I’m just a realist.There is a reason why Clayton County has the worst home values in the nation.THIS…will not do anything to help.Why don’t our elected officials work to fix that first?How can this county ever flourish if there is no wealth?You can’t get enough tax dollars to run everything and make improvements with declining real estate values.They are forced to just raise taxes, which is less money in our pockets.Fix the problem, not add more debt to the county.Report

  3. adelosky says:

    As a native Atlantan and 40 year resident of DeKalb County, my only interest in MARTA moving into Clayton is a selfish one.  I congratulate Clayton County residents for being open minded and visionary for joining the only real public transit system this large and ever expanding city has.  The more counties that integrate with public transit, the better off we’ll all be.  Hopefully, someday soon Cobb and Gwinnett will realize this.  

    Fed Up Resident – I have some advise for you.  While I can’t speak on your behalf, I can provide some knowledgeable feedback about the development possibilities that just opened up for you.  You say you want better home values and more tax dollars.  How is building train stations, in key locations, not development?  It is development that the county would NEVER get otherwise.  Now it is just up to the people of Clayton to stay engaged over the next several years and ensure that Marta and the transit authorities listen and understand what you need as a resident and build the right stations, in the right locations, with the right type of mixed use developments that bring in the tax dollars.  Clayton must be a destination for others to come too.  Not just a place that residents commute from.

    Just my two cents.Report

  4. Fed Up Resident says:

    I appreciate your feedback.  I am simply speaking from a position of experience dealing with C-Tran.  There is a reason why it is no longer here.  The cost to run did not outweigh the benefits it brought to the county.
    It did bring down home values and did increase crime rate.  Clayton County is a suburb.  Mass transit works fine in the city where you can live without a car and is probaby a smarter way to move around from an expense/economic perspective.   When you live in the suburbs, you really do need a car to get around.  We are now subsidizing the folks, who for whatever reason don’t/can’t get a car, with transportation paid for by the masses. 
    It is a macro level solution to a micro level issue. This is why i don’t believe it will work to Clayton County’s benefit, just like C-Tran didn’t.Report

  5. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    @Fed Up Resident  What brought down home values and increased the crime rate in Clayton County was not the presence of public bus transit service.
    What brought down home values in Clayton County was the availability of relatively very cheap and affordable housing in the form of an abundance of multi-family housing (apartments, condos and townhomes) in the north end of the county. 
    The continued construction of new single-family housing in farther-outlying South Metro Atlanta counties like Henry, Fayette and Coweta and regional development patterns which are very heavily tilted towards the Northside (North Metro Atlanta areas like North Fulton, Cobb, Cherokee, Paulding, Forsyth, Gwinnett, Hall, etc) also played a dominant role in the decline of home values and increase in crime in Clayton County.
    Clayton County’s abundance of multi-family housing became a ‘dumping ground’ of sorts for lower-income residents who were displaced from closed and demolished housing projects in the City of Atlanta.  Clayton County’s abundant amount of multi-family housing also became a relocation destination for lower-income residents relocating to Metro Atlanta from other urban areas around the country (places like the Great Lakes, the Northeast, California and other areas of the South)….Lower-income newcomers who could not afford to move into newer single-family housing developments in farther-outlying areas like Henry, Fayette and Coweta counties in South Metro Atlanta.
    With so much newer residential and commercial development popping up seemingly everywhere else but Clayton on a massive scale, Clayton County was always going to be at an overwhelming disadvantage to other suburban areas on both the Southside and the Northside….That’s because middle and upper-income homebuyers with more income were going to move to hotter areas with newer development while lower-income residents with less income were going to move into the lower-priced housing in Clayton that was being bypassed and abandoned by middle and upper-income homebuyers moving to newer areas on the South and North sides.Report

  6. adelosky says:

    For what it’s worth, I live in the suburbs (Stone Mountain) but commute on Marta every day.  I drive less than 10 minutes to Kensington station, hop on the train and am at my desk downtown within the hour.  I just have the advantage of being at a place that has been serviced by Marta for 5 decades.  Yes, I mostly ride Marta for work, but I do use it to go downtown for Falcons games (as a season ticket holder) as well as anything else that requires me to go into the city and I don’t need a car once I’m there.  Not every day, but certainly enough to appreciate the value.
    I do understand where you are coming from and sympathize for your frustration though.  But ultimately, I think the long term gains far outweigh the short term frustrations and obstacles.  And certainly, you can’t compare the failure of a stop gap, self-subsidized measure of trying to “add on” to the transit system, compared to a previously successful county and regionally supported sales tax that actually integrates you into the system.
    And I’m sorry, but I am a strong believer that Marta doesn’t bring crime.  How are Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Buckhead doing 50 years later?  The “riff raff” didn’t drag them down like Gwinnett and Cobb seem to think it will.  Lenox mall continues to be the standard for successful in town shopping connected to transit while malls in places that were comparable to Lenox then – like Gwinnett Place Mall and the Cobb Galleria – continue to decline into obscurity because residents there didn’t embrace transit.
    Again, I think this has to be viewed long term, which the majority of suburban areas around the city not already serviced by Marta have a hard time adjusting too based on the cities love of the automobile and it’s tenuous at best relationship with the “old guard” that used to run the transit authority.  Transit works in the suburbs every where else.  I can’t and won’t believe that it couldn’t work here.Report

  7. Burroughston Broch says:

    The Last Democrat in Georgia  “Clayton County’s abundance of multi-family housing became a ‘dumping ground’ of sorts for lower-income residents who were displaced from closed and demolished housing projects in the City of Atlanta.”
    The same can be said of South DeKalb County.
    MARTA has been unwilling to extend rail service to that area also, despite DeKalb taxpayers paying sales taxes for the past 42 years. Clayton shouldn’t hold its breath for MARTA rail.Report

  8. writes_of_weigh says:

    One wonders if Norfolk Southern’s Canadian owners(would be), Canadian Pacific, and it’s chairman, E. H. Harrison, 
    might be slightly more receptive to a Clayton County, indeed middle Georgia, expansion of rail passenger-centric services over the existing route structure of NS(C P does permit Rocky Mountaineer Excursion/Tour trains over portions of it’s Canadian network) or if their vision might include the same sort of Virginia “tunnel vision” NS and Wick Moorman and his ilk have visited upon the Peach State taxed payers, a place where NS still hopes for taxpayer largess to cover upgrading it’s Savannah and Brunswick ports connected routes via Macon to Atlanta?Report

  9. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Burroughston Broch The Last Democrat in Georgia  Not only has MARTA been unwilling to extend rail service to South DeKalb County but MARTA has also been unable to extend rail service to South DeKalb County because of the agency’s refusal to collect revenues from any sources other than the 1% sales tax. 
    MARTA’s very poor management of the limited revenue it has collected from the 1% sales tax also has not helped.  With the limited revenues that MARTA has had on hand (and the mismanagement of those limited revenues), we are lucky to have the rail transit network that is currently in place.
    Unfortunately you are most likely correct that Clayton should not expect to receive rail transit service anytime soon….That’s because the revenues collected from the 1% sales tax that Clayton County will pay will not be enough to fund the construction of a rail transit line into the county….But at the very least the revenues from the 1% sales tax will be enough to fund the bus transit service that Clayton County so desperately needs.Report


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?