MARTA to get $19.7 million in federal grants

As part of $776 million nationwide in federal grants announced Monday to help bring bus systems back into a state of good repair, MARTA was awarded $18.3 million to replace its Brady Mobility Facility. That's where MARTA operates and maintains its paratransit fleet, buses to carry passengers with disabilities.

The Brady paratransit facility was built in 1974 and hasn't had a significant renovation since then, according to the FTA. MARTA's Mobility service carried passengers on 508,000 trips over the last fiscal year, according to MARTA spokesman Lyle Harris, and it expects a 13 percent increase in demand for paratransit this year.

MARTA is under court order to improve its paratransit service, after it was sued over passengers not getting picked up on time or picked up at all, said Ken Mitchell, who heads a group that advocates for paratransit riders. Unlike the rest of MARTA service, which faced significant cuts starting last month, MARTA is actually increasing Mobility service in this fiscal year.

Mitchell said he hopes the grant for the Brady facility will improve service. "Have you been there?" he asked. "It’s a bunch of trailers put together. ... It’s important that they have a facility where they can at least hopefully organize."

Besides the money for the Brady facility, MARTA is to get $1.4 million to develop an asset management system to track the condition of the agency’s overall fleet, facilities and equipment.

Competition for the grants was stiff, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood: 400 agencies filed applications worth $4.2 billion. MARTA also applied for a $19.4 million rehabilitation of the Hamilton bus garage and $22.1 million for a phase two rehabilitation of Brady, but did not win those, Harris said.

Although MARTA started making significant service cuts last month, the grant money is not to be used for operating service. It is only for keeping the fleet and facilities in a state of good repair.

Those funds are needed, too, MARTA CEO Beverly Scott said at a hearing last week. Nationwide, 40 percent of the nation's buses are in poor or marginal condition, LaHood said Monday.

Although times are tight, the investments are wise, argued FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. Among all the applications, MARTA's grants were "two of the smartest investments we can make in terms of saving the taxpayers money," Rogoff said. The grant for the paratransit facility will help keep it in line with federal law, and the $1.4 million for managing assets will help it make the right investments more efficiently and prevent it from buying things it doesn't need at the moment, Rogoff said.

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