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February 22, 2013

There is a scene in the move Religilous where Bill Maher questions the intelligence of a politician and his affiliation and support of a number of hardly believable and often prejudicial covenants to religion that are in direct conflict with the beliefs of our country. No matter your stance on politics and the infusion of religion into policy and law his response was jaw dropping/embarrassing/causation to bang your head on the table. “You don’t need to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate.” Following this response was the awkward moment of silence. In part to the revelation that this is probably not an isolated opinion amongst politicians, and the realization by the politician interviewed that the statement was probably better left unsaid or at least reserved for a private cocktail party. But nevertheless Georgia’s own Mike Jacobs probably subscribes to the same belief and is evidenced by his never ending pool of statements that completely and unequivocally contradict his actions. HB264 might be his crown jewel of said ignorance.

In short HB264 attempts to further dictate and restrict the actions and resources of an organization that the state offers absolutely no contributions to, while further partitioning support and opposition along racial, class, and urban/suburban lines. Jacobs attempts to hide all of this behind the mask of wanting to make MARTA more fiscally efficient and sustainable. Hold on I must put on my boots beforehand as I would hate to ruin my new jeans before stepping into this massive pile of …… Forcing privatization is the bill’s keystone legislation. But before going further lets offer a bit of clarification. Privatization isn’t really privatization. It is outsourcing. But outsourcing is a dirty word in the conservative realm as it evokes feelings of this.. So privatization is a more politically safe way of saying it. Using privatization will also soften the blow and keep Captain America from choking on his freedom fries when he later learns that the centerpiece of the privatization will likley be given to a French company. Now I am not particularly opposed to outsourcing certain elements of our beloved transit system (nor have I anything against the French). Maybe it would be more efficient for some back of the house or administrative duties. That is why the agency’s new CEO is taking it so seriously and giving it the proper consideration it deserves. But forcing the agency to do so without having properly and fully evaluated the effects and long term costs is a reckless move, fully inspired by individual political gain and local party beliefs.

What I find to be even more ironic is that the party of no governmental intervention and control is attempting to establish governmental control and regulation. Particularly over an entity that they offer absolutely zero contribution to. I won’t get into the detials of how I think forcing privatization, particularly over paratransit is a terrible idea without full evaluation (just go take a ride on a Tech trolley a few times and let me know if you would be comfortable with them shuttling your wheelchair bound grandmother around town), but I will gladly point out Jacob’s contradicting and ignorant thought process behind this entire bill.

“Metro Atlanta deserves a flagship transit agency that is poised to grow and thrive. This cannot happen if MARTA’s business practices – many of which date to the 1970’s-continue to hold the agency hostage to red ink.”

Says the politician whose political support for funding and expanding the system is more reminiscent of 1960’s freeway building ideology. Flagship transit agency? I do like that idea, except it is hard to be so when every politician outside of the immediate city limits does everything they can to limit, restrict, and stop MARTA from being that flagship. And poised for expansion? Oh how we all would love that. Except when our politicians, such as Jacobs, do everything they can to limit funding. Whether it be the criticism and pummeling that TSPLOST took, or the fact that the state contributes no funding or support to the agency, while making sure that every dime they collect is tagged with some sort of regulation or restriction. The same regulations and restrictions that conservative politicians fight so terribly hard to prevent. And let’s not forget to mention that if, or shall I say when, HB264 passes the requirements of the bill will all but guarantee MARTA’s loss of federal funds. He claims they are only 1/5th, which is a softer way of saying 20%, that when placed in its context is a hell of a lot of money. So I would love an explanation as to how it can be the flagship and expand, when one of its main sources of funds is cut off while its most deserving source of funds has been absent since its inception. You can call it contradiction or you can call it pandering, either way it is ignorance.

“MARTA will not get more riders until they have more frequent service.”I have loved Jacobs’ mathematical abilities through this process (see below on paratransit costs). More frequent service = more riders. Very true. But you can’t have more frequent service with the same amount, and in this case less, funding. More funding = more frequent service = more riders = better financial standing. That isn’t a subjective equation, nor is it one based off of hypothetical scenarios, it is an absolute, proven time and time again by what seems to be every transit agency that comes to mind except one. The one that receives no state support.

“My schedule does not allow for it.” (in response to a question on how frequently Jacobs rides MARTA)

Strange. A person that does not use the system, so effectively knows absolutely nothing about it aside from his preformulated biased opinions, feels that it is his “responsibility” to provide such thoughtful, or shall I say destructive, oversight.

“MARTA’s paratransit bus service picks up and delivers the disabled and elderly. But at a cost of $50.43 per trip per rider……Estimates say the average new car payment last year was $452……it’s almost cheaper for MARTA to buy a new vehicle for each passenger and have someone drive them than to retain this service.”

I tried to take this statement seriously. I really did. But the line that had me just about fall out was “…and have someone drive them…” Great idea, because I had almost forgotten about the long list of companies and people that advertise to drive someone around for free, let alone have the capabilities to accommodate for the elderly and disabled. So no we cannot just “have” someone drive them around. “Having” someone to drive them around requires a driver. A driver that needs to be paid for the service they are providing. Or what most people in this region who are capable of assembling a full thought process like to call “MARTA’s paratransit service.” It was also amusing to see how the cost of a car was stripped down to its payment only, disregarding gas, insurance, maintenance, registration, parking, taxes, etc.

Jacobs thought process behind this proposed legislation is laced with pandering statements in an attempt to appeal to pro transit people and make people feel as if he actually gives a damn. But in all actuality it is an additional means to hinder the agency. The option of outsourcing specific functions should be on the table, there is no question about that. But forcing it is the worst possible way. Taking the KPMG audit at face value with no further exploration to understand its implications in customer service which translates to ridership is reckless and irresponsible. The new CEO has been known to create induced competition which allows existing operations to increase efficiency. He has also been on the job for a little more than 2 months. Taking away what he was hired to do is a preemptive attack without justification. It is Jacobs’ way of holding a pissing contest so that he can let it be known who holds the power. Jacobs’ motives are to advance himself personally. MARTA makes for a great political football, and in this region where the war of urban vs. suburban seems to grow stronger in each day, it allows Jacobs to let his constituents know where he stands in advance of reelection or higher political aspirations. It is nothing more or nothing less. If Jacobs and all the politicians who voted in favor of HB264 had any understanding or true care for the future of the region’s transit infrastructure it would not be attempting to pass legislation that is entirely counterintuitive to progress or completely deviates from what every other successful and important transit agency in this country has done. But I suppose it is acceptable, our politicians don’t need to pass an IQ test.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 22, 2013 10:53 am

    I am so happy that you brought up that privatization is outsourcing. That annoys me so much, it’s actually against federal law to privatize a public transit agency.

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