MARTA expansion in Clayton smooth, wait for bus shelters not so much.

Clayton County newcomers Dominic Hickman and Shakima Chavies decided to get to know their new community this week by taking the MARTA 196 bus.

Waiting at a bus stop in Riverdale, the couple had their 6-year-old son Rodney along for the ride.

As the minutes ticked by and the 90-degree temperature bore down, the family — which moved from College Park to Riverdale to be closer to Chavies’ job got a withering idea of what life will be like in the newly minted MARTA county.

“They need a booth right here,” Chavies said, gesturing to a block of bricks cut into the sidewalk along Georgia 85 in Riverdale. “They definitely need somewhere for us to sit.”

“Or something with some shade,” Hickman chimed in.

That could be a while in coming.

As MARTA launches the second round of its Clayton expansion Saturday, the number of bus stops in the county will triple but bus shelters will remain a rarity. MARTA’s August expansion gives Clayton riders a total of seven routes and 306 bus stops. The number of bus shelters remains at four, although the transit agency has permits to install three more within the next month.

What’s taking so long?

A MARTA official told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the agency is working with the cities in Clayton to determine the best spots for shelters. MARTA also is taking into consideration previous heavily used locations when C-Tran was in service. Then there are the procedural tasks.

“We’re working with local government and property owners to get the appropriate easement and other criteria to put in shelters. Then we have to work with GDOT (Georgia Department of Transportation) if it’s a state route,” MARTA spokeswoman Ryland McClendon explained. “It’s not an overnight event. It can take anywhere from four to seven months to put shelters in under the most ideal situation.”

At $15,000 to $20,000 apiece, shelters are not inexpensive.

(If it’s any consolation, only 7.5 percent of the bus stops in DeKalb and Fulton counties have shelters or benches.)

“It’s a concern for our citizens who are out in the elements,” Clayton Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said. One other concern, Turner noted, could be the advertising firm that provides MARTA shelters in DeKalb and Fulton counties.

“They’re not willing to amend the contract to include Clayton,” Turner said. MARTA officials confirmed this.

Turner said he’s looking “at ways from a county perspective to get more shelters.”

One option: Using county funds to put shelters on the most heavily used routes, he said.

Riverdale is one of those routes. Mayor Evelyn Winn-Dixon said she is working with MARTA “to help rectify the matter.”

Winn-Dixon said she has seen mothers with children sitting on the ground waiting for buses.

While MARTA and the county work to add more bus shelters, MARTA’s overall introduction into Clayton seems to be running smoothly so far:

  • Clayton police have had few incidents.
  • Ridership on the three inaugural routes is building, particularly on Route 196 where average daily ridership is 1,800 one-way passenger trips . Daily ridership on Routes 55 and 15 average 300 and 50-55 one-way passenger trips, respectively, said Edward L. Johnson, chief administrative officer for MARTA.
  • The latest expansion adds four new routes — 191, 193, 195 and 800 — and covers more territory, linking riders into existing routes. The new routes include stops at key points in and around Clayton. Riders will be able to pick up Route 193 at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center on Tara Boulevard and ends up at the East Point MARTA rail station. Likewise, Route 191 starts the Justice Center goes over to Georgia 85 in Riverdale and ends up at the airport’s international terminal. Route 195 begins in Ellenwood Industrial Park, follows along Forest Parkway before ending at MARTA’s College Park rail station. Route 800 starts at the Justice Center and extends south to Lovejoy.

As bus service grows in Clayton, rail is still another decade away.

MARTA is conducting a series of studies that could lay the groundwork for bringing a commuter rail line to Clayton. The four studies would cost a total of nearly $700,000 and take about a year to do. Bringing some sort of high-capacity transit to Clayton is likely to take seven to 10 years, Rich Krisak, MARTA’s assistant general manager of rail operations, recently told the AJC.