Public transport is needed in Fayette


With a fine intuitive sense of what might be his final destination, my friend and colleague, county commissioner Eric Maxwell, tells us he’ll fight MARTA till hell freezes over, and then he’ll fight it on the ice.

For a guy who, unlike me, is unlikely to have ever played ice hockey, that’s a bold challenge which I am willing to take up. I’ll do it right now, as I am not sure to be in Eric’s venue of choice later on.

Transportation is a vital need for all of us, from the first trip from the maternity ward to the last one to the graveyard.

Along the way we depend on many others for our transportation. In our youth, we have our parents and, for many years, the school bus. Older people with perhaps declining eyesight or slower reflexes also begin to depend on others as they age, as they did in their youth.

In a county that values education as much as Fayette does, I have often asked myself, what do our students do after high school? Don’t we have young adults who study at Georgia Tech, Georgia State, or Clayton State? How do they get to school every day?

We also have plenty of adults who work either at the Atlanta airport or in downtown Atlanta. How do they get there every day? Do they enjoy their daily driving experience?

There is more to driving a car than getting from point A to point B, because once you reach point B what do you do with the car? Pay $20 to park it four hours?

It is clear that the young, the truly old, the poor, and some people with impairments, cannot drive themselves.

Smart people who could drive often choose not to do it, if they can help it, because they add up the expense of car ownership, maintenance, insurance, taxes, and parking, and they find a better way. Car pooling is a great step in that direction, and it gives more quality time to all but the driver.

For about three years of my life as a teenager, I took public transportation to school every day, and then to a summer job. I simply could not have done without, and I could even read or study on the bus during some trips. I know how useful public transportation can be.

Today we are all encouraged to take MARTA to professional sports events in Atlanta, where Eric could watch hockey and learn how to fight on the ice, and even to other events at the World Congress Center, the Fox Theater and elsewhere.

There is good reason we’re encouraged to do that. Getting cars off the road reduces congestion, emissions, and our dependence on oil suppliers whose likability quotient is rather low. If we end up needing fewer roads, we’ll all have lower taxes too.

For practical reasons, public transportation cannot be offered in every corner of Fayette County. But we do have people in Fayette who need it or who will need it. We have people who could greatly benefit from it and would avail themselves of it.

If we, in Fayette, could only have easy and convenient access to the Atlanta airport through a reliable public transportation system, it would give us access, through MARTA, to the entire area served through its airport station. Any county public official who can’t see that has got to be blind and has no chance in a fight on the ice.

Of course, the Fayette public transportation system does not have to bear the name MARTA. Cobb County has its own bus system with its own name on it, and it does connect to MARTA. We could possibly learn from them.

There is a perception among some people that public transportation is for the poor, the hoi polloi, a species to be avoided. It so happens that the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, rides the NY subway system (with a bodyguard). He thinks this is much faster and also more efficient. In his judgment, this is smarter than riding the big limo.

It is easy to hate MARTA when you don’t ride it. Public transportation is no nirvana, but it is not hell on wheels either. The air conditioning often works and can make people like Eric feel on ice, though hopefully not belligerent.

What I’d like to see in our public officials and candidates is more empathy for all the citizens who could benefit not only themselves but society at large by taking either the bus or the train.

But you can’t take it if our out-of-touch politicians close their minds to the possibility. So let’s quit bashing MARTA and look for ways we can meet our transportation needs without slapping one sales tax after another just to build more roads and bridges.

[A Fayette County resident though a native of hockey-loving Canada, Claude Y. Paquin is a retired lawyer and actuary who, whenever possible, uses MARTA to go to downtown Atlanta.]