Responding to an alternative plan proposed by a coalition of transit workers, riders with disabilities, and transit advocates to better manage its Mobility paratransit services, the MARTA Board of Commissioners voted today to table their decision to privatize the federally mandated service.
“This is a victory for the riders who rely on paratransit to live independently, the experienced workers who know and provide this vital service and all the people of Atlanta,” said Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 732 President Curtis Howard. “This is what happens when Atlantans stand together and demand a voice on a critical decision that will impact so many people.”
The Board’s decision comes as ATU Local 732 offered their cost-saving MARTA Mobility proposal, which includes a series of recommendations to help the agency achieve its cost and efficiency goals.
MARTA has relied on a discredited report by hired consultant KPMG to support its contention that parts of the agency’s service should be privatized. Dr. Elliot Sclar, a specialist in the economics of public services, found KPMG’s conclusions are “based on false comparisons, illegitimate cost measures, and incomplete data.”
At the Board meeting Ken Mitchell, an advocate for disabled veterans, testified that outsourcing doesn’t make sense because it breaks the trusted bond between the riders and the drivers. He also talked about how the last attempt to privatize Mobility failed and this would be no different. Another speaker told the Board by outsourcing Mobility, MARTA was admitting failure.
The ATU report identifies three areas as key to cost savings and improvements including reducing deadheading (when vehicles are operated with no passengers on board), shortening trip lengths, and creating service zones.
“There is one thing that we know for sure based on the experience of cities across the country: outsourcing Mobility to a private operator will not achieve any of our common goals,” said Howard. “We applaud the Board for this wise decision and look forward to working with management over the next month to advance a responsible plan that preserves the safety, quality and reliability of paratransit service for Atlanta’s most vulnerable citizens.”
In addition to their recommendations to improve service and reduce costs, the coalition is demanding that a new entity be created that puts Mobility workers, Mobility riders, and MARTA management at the table together to work on a solution, as opposed to what they call “sham groups and committees” that have existed to date.