Lawsuit seeks restoration of MARTA bus routes

A community activist is pressing MARTA to restore dozens of bus routes it eliminated because of the coronavirus pandemic – and he's taking his case to court.

DeKalb County resident Ed Williams has asked a Fulton County Superior Court judge to order the transit agency to restore 70 bus routes it eliminated in April to promote social distancing and focus service on key corridors. Williams also has filed a complaint with the Federal Transit Administration, saying MARTA's actions were illegal and disproportionately affected minority customers.

MARTA says the complaints are without merit. The agency already has restored several bus routes and plans to restore more in the weeks ahead. But it has no timetable for restoring full service.

In April MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker eliminated 70 of the system’s 110 bus routes as part of the agency’s response to the pandemic. Passengers and drivers were complaining of crowded buses even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged social distancing.

By eliminating most bus routes, MARTA sought to focus service on its busiest routes and on corridors serving hospitals and other key destinations. Among other things, the agency increased the frequency of service on the remaining routes so passengers would be better able to spread out.

In the lawsuit, Williams says Parker lacked the legal authority to eliminate the routes without public input or a vote by the MARTA board. Williams asked the court to order the agency to restore the routes and hold a public hearing and a board vote before making any service cuts.

Williams makes similar arguments in the FTA complaint. And he says MARTA has illegally discriminated against racial minorities and low-income residents, who were disproportionately affected by the agency's decision to cut routes.

In recent correspondence with Williams, MARTA Chief Counsel Elizabeth O'Neill said the cuts were legal. She said MARTA board bylaws give Parker broad authority to supervise the business and affairs of the agency – including making temporary adjustments to service when emergencies arise. She said MARTA's CEO has exercised similar discretion to adjust routes during inclement weather and following the collapse of the I-85 bridge in 2017.

Spokeswoman Stephany Fisher said MARTA has restored four routes in recent weeks. She said it will continue to add routes as conditions allow.