In Atlanta, X Marks the Spot for Local Protests Against Transit Cuts

marta_0421f_555207c.jpgOne of the transit buses marked for today's Atlanta protests. (Photo: AJC)

A week of protests against local transit cuts and fare hikes began today in Atlanta, where union members painted large red Xs on buses and rail cars that would go out of service under a plan to end service on about 30 percent of the city's rail and bus networks.

The series of rallies in eight cities was organized by the Transportation Equity Network (TEN), an alliance of local advocacy groups working to increase transit funding and highlight the perilous fiscal straits that have put service cuts and fare hikes on the table at more than eight in 10 transit agencies.

The TEN effort got backup from the infrastructure reform coalition Transportation for America, which updated its August report on cash-strapped transit agencies and converted the data into an interactive map of local cuts.

The rallies are aimed in part at state-level officials who can help stem the tide of red ink at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) and other agencies, but TEN and its partners are also hoping to seize Congress' attention.

“Service cuts and fare hikes are hitting low-income people, people of color, students, retirees and the disabled especially hard, and they're robbing all of us of a proven engine of economic growth," TEN executive director Laura Barrett said in a statement on the rallies, asking lawmakers "to keep America moving by letting our transit agencies use federal funds for operating expenses.”

But Barrett's groups are facing an uphill battle to move the needle on more federal recovery funding for rail and buses. Despite the Obama administration's infusion of $8.4 billion in stimulus money and public goodwill, transit budgets remain stretched to the breaking point amid no sign of Senate movement on the second round of infrastructure spending that the House approved in December.

Meanwhile, a financial regulatory overhaul and an upcoming climate change bill continue to dominate the upper chamber's schedule, leaving some of the capital's leading transportation policy players to abandon hope of a new jobs bill before November's midterm elections.

Yet the long odds in Washington did not stop hundreds of protesters from turning out in Atlanta today. For a gallery of images from the event, check out the local Journal-Constitution.