MARTA delays vote on paratransit outsourcing

MARTA Board members this week delayed making a controversial decision on whether to pursue outsourcing its Mobility service for elderly and disabled passengers.

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union have protested the transit agency’s move to accept proposals from private providers, saying outsourcing could cost 300 jobs and result in poor quality of service for patrons. A 2012 audit projected that the transit agency could save between $15 million to $43 million by going with a private service provider.

MARTA has tried outsourcing paratransit before in the 1990s, but MARTA decided to bring the service back in-house after it proved unsuccessful, said the local ATU president Curtis Howard.

The union this week provided MARTA officials with a plan to reform the paratransit system, which has been plagued with delays and scheduling issues. That plan focuses on improving scheduling software, replacing and adding more vehicles, keeping drivers in zoned areas and reducing “deadhead” trips (trips without passengers aboard).

MARTA has blamed Mobility program inefficiencies on high absenteeism among union employees.

About half a dozen paratransit riders who spoke at the board meeting Thursday opposed outsourcing, and complained they haven’t been part of the conversation about how Mobility service could be improved.

“We have a saying: ‘Nothing about us without us,’” said Shelia Powell, vice-chairman of disABILITY LINK, which connects disabled people to community services. “There are lots of things that need to be done. The system is broken, but they could change the system as it exists now.”

MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe agreed to have staff members review the union’s plan. The board will revisit the issue at its next meeting in December. A date for the next meeting has not yet been set.