On July 31, residents of ten metro Atlanta counties will head to the polls to vote on a historic tax increase that is being touted as the answer to perhaps the nation’s worse traffic congestion and sprawl.
The Transportation Investment Act (nicknamed T-SPLOST) would impose a 1 percent sales tax on the ten-county region of metro Atlanta. The tax would raise roughly $7.2 billion to pay for a list of 157 transportation projects within the region, designed to make getting around Atlanta easier.
Those ten counties—Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale—will see future tax increases predicated upon how the overall vote goes: If residents of Fayette County vote the tax down, for example, but the entire region cumulated votes “yes,” then the tax increase becomes law.
The elephant in the room is the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system, which stands to receive roughly $1.3 billion of the tax revenue for improvements in the existing system/infrastructure and for new routes/buses around the city.
Back in the early 1970s, the region had the opportunity to vote for MARTA to have train and bus lines in multiple counties: only DeKalb and Fulton County (both home to the city of Atlanta) voted for the tax that has funded perhaps the most inefficient, costly and overstaffed public transportation entity in America.
In Frederick Allen’s book “Atlanta Rising: The Invention of an International City,” we learn this about MARTA: “After 13 years and $1.7 billion in construction costs, MARTA remained a predominately black system. In a metropolitan area of more than 2 million people, MARTA rail cars carried fewer than 200,000 riders a day, well under half the original projections. Studies found that four-fifths of those riders were ‘transit dependent’ (a bureaucratic term for carless), meaning that only one rider in five used MARTA voluntarily for convenience or to save money.”
When I lived in Atlanta, MARTA proved to be convenient for me to get to and from work or to head down to Turner Field and catch a Braves game. But with a ridership that is roughly 76 percent black, it seems that most other whites living in the metro Atlanta area chose to sit in their cars rather than ride MARTA, with many joking that the service stands for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”
Now, Atlanta’s predominately Republican-voting metro counties are firmly opposed to the tax increase, but so are—seemingly paradoxically—many in the black community. But for what reason? The Atlanta Journal Constitution provides the answers, reporting, ”On Tuesday, state Sen. Vincent Fort and John Evans, president of the NAACP’s DeKalb County branch, said the T-SPLOST should be voted down. Guarantees by state and local agencies to include small minority contractors are flimsy, they said.”
Politics does make strange bedfellows indeed, with black voters worried about guarantees for minority contractor set-asides and promises of quotas in the percentage of jobs for minorities.
Now, currently MARTA serves only DeKalb and Fulton County. (DeKalb is roughly 55 percent black and 35 percent white; Fulton is roughly 49 percent white and 47 percent black.) But a look at the 2011—2012 employment data show that Sen. Fort and Mr. Evans’ fears of discrimination are entirely unfounded: MARTA is currently plagued by a gross lack of diversity, with 83 percent of the 4,527 employees being black.
Of 50 employed dispatchers, only one is not black; 96 percent of the 1,227 operators are black; 100 percent of the recruiters are black; 85 percent of the 42 MARTA representatives are black; 94 percent of 295 people employed in services are black; 95 percent of the station agents are black; 84 percent of the superintendents are black; 88 percent of the 171 supervisors are black; and 82 percent of the transit police are black.
There’s a huge vote coming up in Atlanta, where one system is going to gain roughly 20 percent of the tax revenue—but the culture of that organization is one that seemingly favors the hiring of only one group of people.
But the residents of the 10-country metro Atlanta region that will see a tax increase if TSPLOST is approved need to understand that a solid portion of the revenue will be allocated toward subsidizing the growth of MARTA, which has a culture of hiring that lacks any and all inclusion or diversity.
Sprawl and congestion are a problem in Atlanta, but it seems that reverse discrimination in hiring patterns at MARTA might be the unstated problem in the T-SPLOST vote.