Gov. Nathan Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that transit was still possible, but "the amount of money that had originally been included in the Atlanta regional T-SPLOST?" -- the really big bucks -- "That was foreclosed by the failure of the T-SPLOST vote."
Filling the transit gap
In the meantime, a patchwork of smaller services are trying to fill the gap.
In Cobb County, Pam Breeden, director of Cobb Senior Services, is excited about the growth of her senior shuttle service, which has decreased wait times from 60 days to 30 days by bringing on independent private shuttles that are paid with vouchers. Two of its centers where seniors can get rides and participate in activities have just expanded.
But there are limits.
"You get Mrs. Jones who needs to go into Piedmont because she needs something and that's the only place her doctor can do that. Well I can't go to Piedmont, " she said, because Piedmont is in Fulton County. "And neither can [Cobb] Paratransit. Each niche serves a purpose, but there's these stumbling blocks."
Even within their service area, demand to get to medical services is pushing the bounds of her resources. "That's huge right now, chemo and dialysis is really eating up our ability to serve everybody without waiting lists, " Breeden said.
Similarly, DeKalb County has started up a "Golden Shuttle" in three areas to serve elderly.
Private sector solutions include subsidizing taxis. Some favor a regional transit system, but the Legislature has balked at who would control it.
The political calculus
A major question is whether these changing demographics will produce more voters who would change the politics of transit.
Lemon, the DOT board member, believes that in 10 or 20 years their voices will propel leaders to create a more complete system.
This soon after the T-SPLOST defeat, transit is still a white-hot political potato among public officials.
Some suburban government transit officials interviewed careened between arguing that there's a significant need for more services, but saying it wasn't up to them to argue for more money.
But a poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found 68 percent of Cobb and Gwinnett respondents favored funding to expand train service beyond Fulton and DeKalb. The poll suggests the longstanding opposition to transit is softening.
For the moment, the body with the most power to do something, the Legislature, seems stymied.
Asked if the suburban emphasis on roads could give way to any state funding for mass transit, House Speaker David Ralston this fall told the AJC that the rejection of the T-SPLOST put the funding issue back to square one.
"I think we're dealing with our priorities, " Ralston said. "Mass transit will be a part of the equation."
Planning, he said, was important. But execution? With state funding?
"Well, I'm not sure."
About the series
Our reporters are dedicated to bringing you the latest news about the economic and demographic trends shaping metro Atlanta. Today, reporter Ariel Hart reveals how older Americans, new immigrants and the poor -- a growing demographic -- are coping with Atlanta's limited transit options and what that means for our region.
Transit options available in metro Atlanta
Regular local buses in Cobb and Gwinnett counties serve the high-demand areas. MARTA serves Fulton and DeKalb counties. Clayton County's C-Tran shut down in 2010, citing financial concerns, and leaving thousands without local bus service.
County "paratransit" service picks up elderly or disabled passengers at their curbside, if they are within the service area. Reservations are made in advance, and fares are a bit higher than local bus fare. Available in Fulton, DeKalb, C0bb and Gwinnett.
Senior services vans take qualified registrants on regular errand routes and some on-demand service, though wait lists for reservations can be long. Available in all metro counties.
Xpress bus service. The one true regional transit service, this caters to suburban commuters on long-haul commutes to Atlanta. Might go bankrupt in 2013. Serves 12 metro Atlanta counties.