It is not in MARTA’s best interest — nor the region’s — to raise fares at this time

By Maria Saporta

It’s a well known pattern.

Public transit systems experience a financial squeeze. They raise fares. Ridership drops. That causes more financial hardships. So then transit services must be cut. That causes ridership to decrease. So fares are increased. And the downward cycle spirals further down.

Now MARTA finds itself in just this situation. It currently is considering a 25-percent fare increase from a $2 fare to $2.50.

Raising fares at this time is the wrong move for MARTA and metro Atlanta.

For the past decade, due to extraordinary scrutiny from the state government and others, MARTA has been obsessed with its operating budget shortfall.

The reasons are many — but two overshadow all others

MARTA is the largest transit agency in the country that receives zero operating support from its state government. And two, MARTA’s revenues are dependent on the one-cent MARTA sales tax that is levied in the City of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties. The recent recession has caused sales taxes to drop, causing serious financial pressures on MARTA, state and local governments.

So MARTA now finds itself with diminishing reserves and few options to keep its transit operations healthy.

Given the negative domino effect that occurs when fares are raised, there have to be other options.

First of all, there needs to be a strategic shift in the way public transit is viewed. The level of ridership must carry as much weight as the transit agency’s budget picture — a double bottom line, if you will.

Increasing transit ridership has multiple positive outcomes. The more people who ride transit directly translates into fewer people driving cars, which in turn reduces congestion. That means there’s less wear and tear on our roads, and there’s less pressure to widen highways and expand our road infrastructure — both expensive propositions.

But there also are several other benefits to increased transit ridership. The air becomes cleaner. People use less gasoline, making us less dependent on foreign oil. And the use of transit contributes to a healthier urban environment and lifestyle.

In short, there are tangible financial benefits in getting more people to ride transit, and somehow those benefits must be entered into the overall equation.

It is in the best interest for both the State of Georgia and the 10-county Atlanta region for there to be increased transit ridership. And as we try to develop a regional transit system with a unified governance structure, there’s an opportunity for the state and the region to begin providing financial support for MARTA and other transit agencies.

Although House Bill 277 is flawed by not allowing any new revenues to cover MARTA’s operating costs, transportation leaders believe there are ways to work around that unfair restriction.

A region-wide governing entity for transit could change that formula by allocating funds to the new entity. Also, MARTA could get needed budget relief if it had the permanent flexibility to use its entire penny sales tax on operating expenses. (The new regional sales tax could be used for MARTA’s capital improvements).

But there’s another reason why it’s the wrong time to raise fares. Several years ago, MARTA adopted its “BREEZE” card” for the public to pay its fares. As promised, the BREEZE card was supposed to permit MARTA to create a distance-based fare structure. That means that people riding the longest distances would be charged more. (Several other transit agencies in the nation have adopted this method of fare collection).

In a recent conversation with MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott, there will need to be a one-time investment in software to implement this system. But that would be a capital expense, something that would be allowed under HB 277.

A region-wide BREEZE card would be a monumental step forward in creating a seamless regional transit system — whereby people riding Cobb County Transit, or Gwinnett Transit or the X-Press buses would be able to use the same method of payment and travel between the various systems.

All these are real options for the near term. — especially if voters approve the regional one-cent sales tax in 2012. But that tax won’t pass if the region and the state continue to underfund MARTA — forcing it to cut bus and rail services and raise fares.

To get the tax to pass, a regional transit system must be put in place, and people living in Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb must be convinced that the MARTA jurisdictions will be fairly treated. That all will become obvious when the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable presents its list of projects in October.

In the meantime, MARTA must stand strong and true to its mission of public transit by encouraging increased ridership at this critical time in metro Atlanta’s history.

This is not a time to be alienating its loyal riders or providing yet another reason for people not to ride transit.

On the contrary. With gas prices circling the $4 mark, this is an opportunity for MARTA to reverse the downward cycle into an upward motion — more riders, more service, more revenues, more friends, more financial support.

Our region depends on it.

MARTA’s Proposed Fare Increases for FY2012
Base fare would go from $2.00 to $2.50
Reduced fare would go from $0.90 to $0.95
Mobility base fare would go from $3.60 to $3.80
Weekly pass would go from $17.00 to $23.75
Monthly pass would go from $68.0 to $95.0
Mobility pass would go from $115.00 to $122.00

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40 comments
Citizen Bob
Citizen Bob

Everyone has a different definition of what's "fair" regarding government-operated transit systems, so America largely allows all of us to vote our conscience using dollars in the marketplace.

If that vote conflicts with your idea of what's fair, you have the right to explain your point of view in an attempt to convince them to vote otherwise (buy and use a Breeze card). Failing that outcome, you do not have a moral or legal right to force your opinion on "non-believers" by seizing their earnings thru taxation and re-distributing them to your cause.

Citizen Bob
Citizen Bob

Everyone has a different definition of what's "fair" regarding government-operated transit systems, so America largely allows all of us to vote our conscience using dollars in the marketplace.If that vote conflicts with your idea of what's fair, you have the right to explain your point of view in an attempt to convince them to vote otherwise (buy and use a Breeze card). Failing that outcome, you do not have a moral or legal right to force your opinion on "non-believers" by seizing their earnings thru taxation and re-distributing them to your cause.

blackbird13
blackbird13

I agree with "Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?" that MARTA's historical mission of serving primarily the poor is a major factor explaining its current straits.
Such a focus at least partly explains the low level of political support for MARTA (along with the racist attitudes that still come into play), and it has caused MARTA to be viewed by some on the local and state level as akin to a welfare program, the transportation equivalent of Section 8 housing. In this region, one often receives blank stares at best and sometimes outright derision for putting public transit in the same category as other vital infrastructure--such as roads.

blackbird13
blackbird13

I agree with "Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?" that MARTA's historical mission of serving primarily the poor is a major factor explaining its current straits. Such a focus at least partly explains the low level of political support for MARTA (along with the racist attitudes that still come into play), and it has caused MARTA to be viewed by some on the local and state level as akin to a welfare program, the transportation equivalent of Section 8 housing. In this region, one often receives blank stares at best and sometimes outright derision for putting public transit in the same category as other vital infrastructure--such as roads.

Miguel Knox
Miguel Knox

You don't have to go back too far to find out that between 2002-06, MARTA was on the verge of doing exactly what many on this board feels it needs to do. I first moved to Georgia in 2002, and I attended the Art Institute of Atlanta, which sits across from Sandy Springs Station up in Dunwoody.

Almost every time I rode the Marta, I saw signs and read the flyers that mentioned upcoming service improvements, construction, increased Bus Routes, and the like. In many measures, this did happen. An Armour Station was eventually built near Linbergh Station to accommodate more trains and rail cars. Newer, cleaner trains were built, more transit centers were built throughout Metro Atlanta, and better schedules, to synchronize with the development of GRTA Xpress were designed, and digital signing that displayed arrival times, etc.

People may also remember, that MARTA rail was supposed to expand into the Hampton area of Clayton County, and as far as Columbus, GA by 2009. Of course this didn't happen, and many of MARTA's objectives weren't met. The problem to me is the gross financial mismanagement that occurred in conjunction with such in Washington between 2004 and 2008.

It was this and other blunders that literally derailed (no pun) anything that Marta had in store for the future. Don't forget, that MARTA had some $30+million in emergency funds, that it couldn't tap into during the 2008 downturn.

As a Clayton County resident, I'm still trying to figure out how a group called "Connecting Clayton" can provide a great and informative survey that asked us the residents our opinions about public transportation for now and the future, and then C-TRAN gets shut down? Huh? Don't get me started about the leadership.

This issue isn't as complex as many make it out to be. Georgia is backwards and selfish. PERIOD. As it has been stated previously, the state government won't take a proactive role in development of public transport. Now, I find it reeeal funny that many municipalities are now considering local transportation, as if all of a sudden it's NOW important. Wasn't it important BEFORE? We build more subdivisions, apartments, houses and businesses, but no more BUSES? What?

Even if Georgia doesn't have a clue about what to do, all it has to do is look at many of its neighbors around the nation, that's adopted comprehensive transport solutions for their respective cities. I'm sure our government can see these models in areas like D.C., Phoenix, Seattle, California, etc, and begin to develop a fit for Georgia.

Miguel Knox
Miguel Knox

You don't have to go back too far to find out that between 2002-06, MARTA was on the verge of doing exactly what many on this board feels it needs to do. I first moved to Georgia in 2002, and I attended the Art Institute of Atlanta, which sits across from Sandy Springs Station up in Dunwoody. Almost every time I rode the Marta, I saw signs and read the flyers that mentioned upcoming service improvements, construction, increased Bus Routes, and the like. In many measures, this did happen. An Armour Station was eventually built near Linbergh Station to accommodate more trains and rail cars. Newer, cleaner trains were built, more transit centers were built throughout Metro Atlanta, and better schedules, to synchronize with the development of GRTA Xpress were designed, and digital signing that displayed arrival times, etc. People may also remember, that MARTA rail was supposed to expand into the Hampton area of Clayton County, and as far as Columbus, GA by 2009. Of course this didn't happen, and many of MARTA's objectives weren't met. The problem to me is the gross financial mismanagement that occurred in conjunction with such in Washington between 2004 and 2008. It was this and other blunders that literally derailed (no pun) anything that Marta had in store for the future. Don't forget, that MARTA had some $30+million in emergency funds, that it couldn't tap into during the 2008 downturn. As a Clayton County resident, I'm still trying to figure out how a group called "Connecting Clayton" can provide a great and informative survey that asked us the residents our opinions about public transportation for now and the future, and then C-TRAN gets shut down? Huh? Don't get me started about the leadership. This issue isn't as complex as many make it out to be. Georgia is backwards and selfish. PERIOD. As it has been stated previously, the state government won't take a proactive role in development of public transport. Now, I find it reeeal funny that many municipalities are now considering local transportation, as if all of a sudden it's NOW important. Wasn't it important BEFORE? We build more subdivisions, apartments, houses and businesses, but no more BUSES? What? Even if Georgia doesn't have a clue about what to do, all it has to do is look at many of its neighbors around the nation, that's adopted comprehensive transport solutions for their respective cities. I'm sure our government can see these models in areas like D.C., Phoenix, Seattle, California, etc, and begin to develop a fit for Georgia.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

a transit fan says:
May 27, 2011 at 9:44 am
"Let’s keep comments brief and informative"

Ahhh, if only this issue were so simple and one-dimensional, which it's NOT! Many people try to portray raising fares by a couple of quarters so that the region's "flagship" transit system can continue to just limp along and continue providing the very minimal amount of service to impoverished and lower-income residents whom have no other transportation options and are effectively dependent on MARTA to get around to where they must go. Maybe it's just me, but while very important and critical, especially to those dependent upon MARTA, providing bare bones transit service to the poorest of the poor just doesn't seem to indicate an overwhelming amount of vision when it comes to transit planning for both MARTA and the region as a whole. The widescale perception that MARTA is a transit service that is only primarily for poor minorities and NOT for all across the socioeconomic scale has been extremely harmful to the mobility of the region as a whole as when MARTA service is (repeatedly) cut, the perception is that only the poorest of the poor are affected as MARTA has kept its fares relatively artificially low so that homeless people won't to pay more to ride, which is good for homeless and very low income people but doesn't seem to take into account the bigger picture which that it is the residents with higher socioeconomic status and middle and higher income people are the ones that make up the vast majority of commuters with single-occupant vehicles which is by far the biggest part of the traffic problem in this town. Whether correct or not, these commuters perceive MARTA to be a dysfunctional agency that caters primarily to the very poor with often spotty, inconsistent, unsafe and undependable service that you avoid unless you have no other choice but to ride. Just a thought, but maybe the conservation should be about raising fares to vastly improve, increase and expand service, instead of raising fares just to continue providing the bare minimum of service.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

a transit fan says: May 27, 2011 at 9:44 am "Let’s keep comments brief and informative" Ahhh, if only this issue were so simple and one-dimensional, which it's NOT! Many people try to portray raising fares by a couple of quarters so that the region's "flagship" transit system can continue to just limp along and continue providing the very minimal amount of service to impoverished and lower-income residents whom have no other transportation options and are effectively dependent on MARTA to get around to where they must go. Maybe it's just me, but while very important and critical, especially to those dependent upon MARTA, providing bare bones transit service to the poorest of the poor just doesn't seem to indicate an overwhelming amount of vision when it comes to transit planning for both MARTA and the region as a whole. The widescale perception that MARTA is a transit service that is only primarily for poor minorities and NOT for all across the socioeconomic scale has been extremely harmful to the mobility of the region as a whole as when MARTA service is (repeatedly) cut, the perception is that only the poorest of the poor are affected as MARTA has kept its fares relatively artificially low so that homeless people won't to pay more to ride, which is good for homeless and very low income people but doesn't seem to take into account the bigger picture which that it is the residents with higher socioeconomic status and middle and higher income people are the ones that make up the vast majority of commuters with single-occupant vehicles which is by far the biggest part of the traffic problem in this town. Whether correct or not, these commuters perceive MARTA to be a dysfunctional agency that caters primarily to the very poor with often spotty, inconsistent, unsafe and undependable service that you avoid unless you have no other choice but to ride. Just a thought, but maybe the conservation should be about raising fares to vastly improve, increase and expand service, instead of raising fares just to continue providing the bare minimum of service.

Franco
Franco

While I would be hurt by distance-based fares, I think MARTA and the suburban transit systems need to do this and soon. When I first started riding transit from Marietta to downtown Decatur, the fare was only $1.25 coming out of Cobb and $1.50 on the return trip. That disparity led people to conclude that we in Cobb were freeloading on the MARTA penny taxpayers. But what of the purchases we make while in Atlanta, Fulton, and DeKalb? Aren't we paying the MARTA penny, too? That sales tax shows up on everything I buy in Atlanta including food.

I don't see any other way than raising the fares to preserve service. As someone who tries to use transit when I travel into midtown and downtown Atlanta, I find the trip has become more complicated with the service cuts, reroutes, and schedule alterations on MARTA. I have spent hours trying to plan my trips on transit and end up driving in anyway. I can only imagine the havoc wreaked on MARTA-dependent riders when these massive changes come about and they find it difficult or impossible to "get there from here."

Franco
Franco

While I would be hurt by distance-based fares, I think MARTA and the suburban transit systems need to do this and soon. When I first started riding transit from Marietta to downtown Decatur, the fare was only $1.25 coming out of Cobb and $1.50 on the return trip. That disparity led people to conclude that we in Cobb were freeloading on the MARTA penny taxpayers. But what of the purchases we make while in Atlanta, Fulton, and DeKalb? Aren't we paying the MARTA penny, too? That sales tax shows up on everything I buy in Atlanta including food. I don't see any other way than raising the fares to preserve service. As someone who tries to use transit when I travel into midtown and downtown Atlanta, I find the trip has become more complicated with the service cuts, reroutes, and schedule alterations on MARTA. I have spent hours trying to plan my trips on transit and end up driving in anyway. I can only imagine the havoc wreaked on MARTA-dependent riders when these massive changes come about and they find it difficult or impossible to "get there from here."

a transit fan
a transit fan

Maybe things aren't working well because there's much talk but little listening, many suppositions but few actions, and intense focus on 'me' rather than on us.

Let's keep comments brief and informative.

a transit fan
a transit fan

Maybe things aren't working well because there's much talk but little listening, many suppositions but few actions, and intense focus on 'me' rather than on us. Let's keep comments brief and informative.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

@ Burroughston Broch:
You are very much correct, our transportation planning woes have occurred because of dysfunction and incompetence at ALL levels of government from the Federal level on down to each local city and county in the Atlanta Region. I've stated almost too many of those examples of the failures of local governments to deal with transportation to count across this and many other blogs and forums who have dedicated space to this very pressing issue. Some of the examples I have stated have been MARTA's refusal to raise fares to a level that would help them provide much better service to this town, Clayton County's refusal to raise fares to keep providing bus service to their own community while demanding that the state completely fund and operate the service for them and numerous other examples of malfeasance by local governments, etc.

The reason why I put so much blame on the State of Georgia for the current transportation mess, which includes but by is no means limited to MARTA alone, is because of 1) the state's total mismanagement of GDOT in recent years to the point to where they've become an inconsequential laughingstock that is but a shell of the seemingly then-great agency that reconstructed, widened and expanded the interstate and expressway system across North Georgia in the 1980's. State "lawmakers" (and I use that term very lightly) have run GDOT almost completely into the ground with ridiculously off-the-charts requests for political favors and Gov. Perdue's misguided program of using excessive bonds to finance road construction without any real way to pay the bonds back (usually tolls, user fees or tax increases are the only surefire way to make sure bonds are paid back in a timely manner so as to keep an agency solvent, federal government not withstanding).

States that are our main direct economic competitors, like Texas, Florida and North Carolina, have state governments that seem to take a very much more active role in regional transportation planning. Texas and Florida don't hesitate to plan, construct and build new toll roads when extra roadway capacity is needed while North Carolina has been and continues to be the site of some of the most concentrated areas of roadbuilding of any state or province on the planet and currently operates and plans to expand a system of intrastate rail lines. Texas and North Carolina both take a more active hand in maintaining and managing local roads and employ a rather robust system of four-digit numbering and state oversight on most local routes. Other state governments outside of the Sunbelt, like Virginia, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts all either manage or outright run regional commuter rail systems in and around dense major urban areas in their states.

Meanwhile, the State of Georgia has elected to take a largely hands-off approach to transportation planning and management over the last decade or so while Metro Atlanta's population shot up through the roof from 3.5 million from around the time of the Olympics to in excess of 5.7 million in 2010. Six million people in North Georgia, 9.7 million-plus people in all of Georgia in the face of crippling traffic jams and four-dollar-a-gallon gas 15 years after the Olympics, an event which was supposed to be our international coming out party, and we are STILL with no widescale strategic investments in transportation infrastructure in close to 20 years, no new toll roads in close to 20 years, no commuter rail, no light rail. Instead of an intergrated multimodal ground transportation system that includes roads, rail, buses and even walking/biking trails, we sit here on these and other open forums haggling over minimum fare increases of one or two quarters so that increasingly bare bones rail and bus service can continue to be barely provided. Before the Olympics MARTA was considered to be a top-ten, even top-five transit system. These days MARTA is increasingly routinely mentioned as BOTTOM-ten transit system (recently saw MARTA ranked as low as #91 out of 100 largest U.S. cities for transit).

There's absolutely no doubt that there needs to be ALOT more cooperation and responsibility for transportation and TRANSIT planning at the local levels, especially in the 10-county core urban and suburban core of the Atlanta Region, but once a region or metro area gets as monsterously large as the Atlanta Region has grown to be where the entire region officially encompasses 28 counties and unofficially effects 30-40 counties across all of North and even Middle Georgia, it is way beyond time for the state to become involved in more actively planning and managing regional transportation just because of the sheer number of different jurisdictions that are involved. State involvment is also necessary because the main routes obstructed and filled with traffic are routes that state government itself are solely responsible for (Interstates 20, 75, 85, 285, 575, 985 and Georgia State Routes 3, 6, 10, 85, 316, 400) and the multiple numerous counties and local jurisdictions that those routes run through.

Right here on this blog we have witnessed how problematic it is just to get a consensus on which way to proceed on transportation just within the 10-county core of the Atlanta Region, but when you figure most of North Georgia above the Gnat Line and even parts of Middle Georgia (as many residents in towns as far away as Columbus, Macon and Warner Robins commute daily to and from jobs in Metro Atlanta), it becomes apparent how much the involvement of the state is needed to help with this issue, a role that, unfortunately, the state just doesn't seem to be capable of at this point, amongst other things.

I very much agree with you that local governments in the metro area need to also take responsibility in helping to deal with this issue, but with a problem this large with as big of an impact that it has over a very large geographical area, the state absolutely MUST take a lead role in planning and management.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

@ Burroughston Broch: You are very much correct, our transportation planning woes have occurred because of dysfunction and incompetence at ALL levels of government from the Federal level on down to each local city and county in the Atlanta Region. I've stated almost too many of those examples of the failures of local governments to deal with transportation to count across this and many other blogs and forums who have dedicated space to this very pressing issue. Some of the examples I have stated have been MARTA's refusal to raise fares to a level that would help them provide much better service to this town, Clayton County's refusal to raise fares to keep providing bus service to their own community while demanding that the state completely fund and operate the service for them and numerous other examples of malfeasance by local governments, etc. The reason why I put so much blame on the State of Georgia for the current transportation mess, which includes but by is no means limited to MARTA alone, is because of 1) the state's total mismanagement of GDOT in recent years to the point to where they've become an inconsequential laughingstock that is but a shell of the seemingly then-great agency that reconstructed, widened and expanded the interstate and expressway system across North Georgia in the 1980's. State "lawmakers" (and I use that term very lightly) have run GDOT almost completely into the ground with ridiculously off-the-charts requests for political favors and Gov. Perdue's misguided program of using excessive bonds to finance road construction without any real way to pay the bonds back (usually tolls, user fees or tax increases are the only surefire way to make sure bonds are paid back in a timely manner so as to keep an agency solvent, federal government not withstanding). States that are our main direct economic competitors, like Texas, Florida and North Carolina, have state governments that seem to take a very much more active role in regional transportation planning. Texas and Florida don't hesitate to plan, construct and build new toll roads when extra roadway capacity is needed while North Carolina has been and continues to be the site of some of the most concentrated areas of roadbuilding of any state or province on the planet and currently operates and plans to expand a system of intrastate rail lines. Texas and North Carolina both take a more active hand in maintaining and managing local roads and employ a rather robust system of four-digit numbering and state oversight on most local routes. Other state governments outside of the Sunbelt, like Virginia, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts all either manage or outright run regional commuter rail systems in and around dense major urban areas in their states. Meanwhile, the State of Georgia has elected to take a largely hands-off approach to transportation planning and management over the last decade or so while Metro Atlanta's population shot up through the roof from 3.5 million from around the time of the Olympics to in excess of 5.7 million in 2010. Six million people in North Georgia, 9.7 million-plus people in all of Georgia in the face of crippling traffic jams and four-dollar-a-gallon gas 15 years after the Olympics, an event which was supposed to be our international coming out party, and we are STILL with no widescale strategic investments in transportation infrastructure in close to 20 years, no new toll roads in close to 20 years, no commuter rail, no light rail. Instead of an intergrated multimodal ground transportation system that includes roads, rail, buses and even walking/biking trails, we sit here on these and other open forums haggling over minimum fare increases of one or two quarters so that increasingly bare bones rail and bus service can continue to be barely provided. Before the Olympics MARTA was considered to be a top-ten, even top-five transit system. These days MARTA is increasingly routinely mentioned as BOTTOM-ten transit system (recently saw MARTA ranked as low as #91 out of 100 largest U.S. cities for transit). There's absolutely no doubt that there needs to be ALOT more cooperation and responsibility for transportation and TRANSIT planning at the local levels, especially in the 10-county core urban and suburban core of the Atlanta Region, but once a region or metro area gets as monsterously large as the Atlanta Region has grown to be where the entire region officially encompasses 28 counties and unofficially effects 30-40 counties across all of North and even Middle Georgia, it is way beyond time for the state to become involved in more actively planning and managing regional transportation just because of the sheer number of different jurisdictions that are involved. State involvment is also necessary because the main routes obstructed and filled with traffic are routes that state government itself are solely responsible for (Interstates 20, 75, 85, 285, 575, 985 and Georgia State Routes 3, 6, 10, 85, 316, 400) and the multiple numerous counties and local jurisdictions that those routes run through. Right here on this blog we have witnessed how problematic it is just to get a consensus on which way to proceed on transportation just within the 10-county core of the Atlanta Region, but when you figure most of North Georgia above the Gnat Line and even parts of Middle Georgia (as many residents in towns as far away as Columbus, Macon and Warner Robins commute daily to and from jobs in Metro Atlanta), it becomes apparent how much the involvement of the state is needed to help with this issue, a role that, unfortunately, the state just doesn't seem to be capable of at this point, amongst other things. I very much agree with you that local governments in the metro area need to also take responsibility in helping to deal with this issue, but with a problem this large with as big of an impact that it has over a very large geographical area, the state absolutely MUST take a lead role in planning and management.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

@ Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?....

I agree with most of what you wrote, but I don't agree with laying the majority of the blame with the state. It is primarily the failure of the metro cities and counties to work collectively that has led to the current situation.

Where is Tom Moreland now that we need him?

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

@ Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.... I agree with most of what you wrote, but I don't agree with laying the majority of the blame with the state. It is primarily the failure of the metro cities and counties to work collectively that has led to the current situation. Where is Tom Moreland now that we need him?

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

I've also noticed how alot of people seem to think that the issues with service levels, revenues, oversight, etc that MARTA has experienced are just local issues that are confined to that agency alone. The problems that a transportation agency like MARTA experiences are not endemic to MARTA alone, but are just a local manifestation of the way this state has approached transportation planning and management as a whole over the last 15 years since about the end of the '96 Olympics. In the roughly two decades before and leading up to the Olympic games, there was much investment in transportation, especially, of course, roads, but also somewhat in mass transit as this was the period in which we saw the massive expansion of Interstates 20, 75, 85 and 285 into the multi-lane behemoths that we know today by GDOT, this was also the period where MARTA, through local investment, without the help of the state, expanded to the system it is today.

15-20 years ago, GDOT was considered one of the best roadbuilding, maintenance and management agencies in the entire nation while at the same time MARTA was considered one of the top five or ten mass transit systems in all of North America. Fast-forward to 2011 and GDOT is viewed as a very bad joke and is a laughingstock of an agency that doesn't seem to be able to even figure out how to balance a checkbook these days while MARTA has gone from being a top-ten highly-regarded transit system falling to one that is increasingly ranked lower and lower as I just recently saw a survey that ranked MARTA #91 (out of 100) in total overall bus service quality.

Any anger or dissatisfaction aimed at MARTA alone is misplaced because as one can clearly see with the GDOT has been "operated" in the last 15 years or so, it's at the state level where something as crucial and as critical as transportation has seemingly taken a very low priority. How can a metro area like Atlanta, whose population has grown by over TWO MILLION residents (which is about the population of the entire Charlotte metro area) since the end of the 1996 Olympics and by close to THREE MILLION in the 20 years since the 1990 Census pegged Metro Atlanta's population at 2.9 million, NOT even have a commuter rail system or even a commuter rail line? Even the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle for those who don't know) has seen minimal expansion as only the section of major expressway/interstate outside of the Perimeter on which HOV lanes have been added since the mid 1990's has been I-85 North in DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties while extremely heavily-traveled sections of I-20 E & W, I-75 N & S, I-85 South, 400 North outside of the perimeter and I-285 itself remain without HOV lanes. It's like there was all of this investment in bus, rail and road infrastructure in the lead-up to the Olympics to put on the best face possible for the world, investment in infrastructure and transportation which seemed almost just completely ceased after the Olympics were over. Since the end of the Olympics our metro population has shot up through the roof by over two million while nary a dime has been spent to account for all of extra commuters and motorists out on the roads.

Can't really blame MARTA for not serving Metro Atlanta or even the urban core when the urban core of the metro area which used to be confined to just two counties (Fulton and DeKalb) now stretches over five counties and now includes Cobb, Clayton and Gwinnett. The fact that Metro Atlanta now stretches over 28 counties makes transportation more of a statewide issue than ever and how has the state responded to all of this crushing population growth? By letting bus and train service in its state capitol and largest city be cut to the bone, letting its state transportation agency fall into a state of near-oblivion and inept cluelessness and not investing a nary a dime in new long-term transportation infrastructure while the roads fill completely up with a incomprehensibly crushing amount of traffic. This is what happens when you have a state government that refuses to actively or meaningfully participate in constructive transportation planning and management. This state government could get away with the smoke and mirrors approach to transportation when Metro Atlanta had close to half the population it has today, but with the population of the Atlanta Region hanging just below six million, the state can no longer get away with looking like it has accomplished something when it really has accomplished and put forth NOTHING exposing them to be rudderless buffoons they are without any sense of direction or even much as a clue. Nothing like a little population growth to reveal that the emperor really has no clothes and hasn't for many years?

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

I've also noticed how alot of people seem to think that the issues with service levels, revenues, oversight, etc that MARTA has experienced are just local issues that are confined to that agency alone. The problems that a transportation agency like MARTA experiences are not endemic to MARTA alone, but are just a local manifestation of the way this state has approached transportation planning and management as a whole over the last 15 years since about the end of the '96 Olympics. In the roughly two decades before and leading up to the Olympic games, there was much investment in transportation, especially, of course, roads, but also somewhat in mass transit as this was the period in which we saw the massive expansion of Interstates 20, 75, 85 and 285 into the multi-lane behemoths that we know today by GDOT, this was also the period where MARTA, through local investment, without the help of the state, expanded to the system it is today. 15-20 years ago, GDOT was considered one of the best roadbuilding, maintenance and management agencies in the entire nation while at the same time MARTA was considered one of the top five or ten mass transit systems in all of North America. Fast-forward to 2011 and GDOT is viewed as a very bad joke and is a laughingstock of an agency that doesn't seem to be able to even figure out how to balance a checkbook these days while MARTA has gone from being a top-ten highly-regarded transit system falling to one that is increasingly ranked lower and lower as I just recently saw a survey that ranked MARTA #91 (out of 100) in total overall bus service quality. Any anger or dissatisfaction aimed at MARTA alone is misplaced because as one can clearly see with the GDOT has been "operated" in the last 15 years or so, it's at the state level where something as crucial and as critical as transportation has seemingly taken a very low priority. How can a metro area like Atlanta, whose population has grown by over TWO MILLION residents (which is about the population of the entire Charlotte metro area) since the end of the 1996 Olympics and by close to THREE MILLION in the 20 years since the 1990 Census pegged Metro Atlanta's population at 2.9 million, NOT even have a commuter rail system or even a commuter rail line? Even the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle for those who don't know) has seen minimal expansion as only the section of major expressway/interstate outside of the Perimeter on which HOV lanes have been added since the mid 1990's has been I-85 North in DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties while extremely heavily-traveled sections of I-20 E & W, I-75 N & S, I-85 South, 400 North outside of the perimeter and I-285 itself remain without HOV lanes. It's like there was all of this investment in bus, rail and road infrastructure in the lead-up to the Olympics to put on the best face possible for the world, investment in infrastructure and transportation which seemed almost just completely ceased after the Olympics were over. Since the end of the Olympics our metro population has shot up through the roof by over two million while nary a dime has been spent to account for all of extra commuters and motorists out on the roads. Can't really blame MARTA for not serving Metro Atlanta or even the urban core when the urban core of the metro area which used to be confined to just two counties (Fulton and DeKalb) now stretches over five counties and now includes Cobb, Clayton and Gwinnett. The fact that Metro Atlanta now stretches over 28 counties makes transportation more of a statewide issue than ever and how has the state responded to all of this crushing population growth? By letting bus and train service in its state capitol and largest city be cut to the bone, letting its state transportation agency fall into a state of near-oblivion and inept cluelessness and not investing a nary a dime in new long-term transportation infrastructure while the roads fill completely up with a incomprehensibly crushing amount of traffic. This is what happens when you have a state government that refuses to actively or meaningfully participate in constructive transportation planning and management. This state government could get away with the smoke and mirrors approach to transportation when Metro Atlanta had close to half the population it has today, but with the population of the Atlanta Region hanging just below six million, the state can no longer get away with looking like it has accomplished something when it really has accomplished and put forth NOTHING exposing them to be rudderless buffoons they are without any sense of direction or even much as a clue. Nothing like a little population growth to reveal that the emperor really has no clothes and hasn't for many years?

Adam Larson
Adam Larson

Bummed about MARTA's decision to raise fares. I had finally decided to use transit, mainly because with gas at $4 a gallon, it would save my family about $40/month. But with the proposed fare structure it's a wash economically, and since driving gives me about an hour extra at home with family, I'll be back on the roads for the foreseeable future.

Adam Larson
Adam Larson

Bummed about MARTA's decision to raise fares. I had finally decided to use transit, mainly because with gas at $4 a gallon, it would save my family about $40/month. But with the proposed fare structure it's a wash economically, and since driving gives me about an hour extra at home with family, I'll be back on the roads for the foreseeable future.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Mr. Durrett, there may be some points on which we disagree, but I agree 100% with everything you just said about not waiting for funding that isn't coming anytime soon from a state government that often seems to be almost completely clueless on how to approach transportation planning and management. If anyone thinks that the way the State of Georgia approaches MARTA and mass transit is appalling just take a look at the way the Georgia Department of Transportation has been run into the ground in the last decade or so and the way it is being run now (remember how GDOT Commissioner proceded to attempt to run and hide when he saw the news cameras coming towards him in the aftermath of the January winter storm or how $430 million in years-old unpaid invoices were found stuffed in a desk at GDOT headquarters or how about the one where GDOT didn't seem to know how many or what particular projects it was working on when asked, need I go on? Kinda makes MARTA seem like kindergarten college doesn't it?).

I fully agree that it's better to raise fares to keep service, even if it is just to keep the bare minimum amount of service, than it is to refuse to raise fares and have to cut service altogether, like Clayton County did last year when they refused to raise fares and discontinued critically-needed bus service. I also agree with your point of utilizing user fees to keep a mode of transportation operating, something that should only be done with fares on bus and rail lines, but as something that should also be utilized with roads in the form of TOLLS. My thing is that it's better to pay user fees in the form of fares and tolls and have the much-needed infrastructure in the form of a bus line, rail line or road, than to refuse to pay the fare and toll, do without, be stuck in traffic and have your overall mobility be greatly affected.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Mr. Durrett, there may be some points on which we disagree, but I agree 100% with everything you just said about not waiting for funding that isn't coming anytime soon from a state government that often seems to be almost completely clueless on how to approach transportation planning and management. If anyone thinks that the way the State of Georgia approaches MARTA and mass transit is appalling just take a look at the way the Georgia Department of Transportation has been run into the ground in the last decade or so and the way it is being run now (remember how GDOT Commissioner proceded to attempt to run and hide when he saw the news cameras coming towards him in the aftermath of the January winter storm or how $430 million in years-old unpaid invoices were found stuffed in a desk at GDOT headquarters or how about the one where GDOT didn't seem to know how many or what particular projects it was working on when asked, need I go on? Kinda makes MARTA seem like kindergarten college doesn't it?). I fully agree that it's better to raise fares to keep service, even if it is just to keep the bare minimum amount of service, than it is to refuse to raise fares and have to cut service altogether, like Clayton County did last year when they refused to raise fares and discontinued critically-needed bus service. I also agree with your point of utilizing user fees to keep a mode of transportation operating, something that should only be done with fares on bus and rail lines, but as something that should also be utilized with roads in the form of TOLLS. My thing is that it's better to pay user fees in the form of fares and tolls and have the much-needed infrastructure in the form of a bus line, rail line or road, than to refuse to pay the fare and toll, do without, be stuck in traffic and have your overall mobility be greatly affected.

Jim Durrett
Jim Durrett

Maria: I appreciate your viewpoint, but our opinions diverge based upon where you sit and view the situation and where I sit and view the situation. You can say that the state and the region should support MARTA to a greater extent than they do now. So can I. You go, girl! But I can't base decisions about funding and operating MARTA, and extending our ability to continue to provide this very important transportation option and maintain the multi-billion dollar infrastructure investment, on our common desire, wish and hope.

All signals are that we will not receive as much support in the future from the federal government, we receive no operational support from the State of GA (and never have), and we should not base our decisions today on a future referendum.

We must seek to better diversify our revenue sources, and that includes charging user fees that are higher, but in line with our peer systems, finding other sources of income, controlling our costs, and enhancing the quality of the transit experience. We do this will full recognition of the condition of the economic and social environment in which we operate, and we hope to make a decision that best balances our desire to operate a sustainable transit system and the capacity of the public to pay for the service.

My hope is that by increasing the share of the cost to operate and maintain the system born by the users of the system, we can garner the kind of support from the state and the region that we both desire. - Jim

Jim Durrett
Jim Durrett

Maria: I appreciate your viewpoint, but our opinions diverge based upon where you sit and view the situation and where I sit and view the situation. You can say that the state and the region should support MARTA to a greater extent than they do now. So can I. You go, girl! But I can't base decisions about funding and operating MARTA, and extending our ability to continue to provide this very important transportation option and maintain the multi-billion dollar infrastructure investment, on our common desire, wish and hope. All signals are that we will not receive as much support in the future from the federal government, we receive no operational support from the State of GA (and never have), and we should not base our decisions today on a future referendum. We must seek to better diversify our revenue sources, and that includes charging user fees that are higher, but in line with our peer systems, finding other sources of income, controlling our costs, and enhancing the quality of the transit experience. We do this will full recognition of the condition of the economic and social environment in which we operate, and we hope to make a decision that best balances our desire to operate a sustainable transit system and the capacity of the public to pay for the service. My hope is that by increasing the share of the cost to operate and maintain the system born by the users of the system, we can garner the kind of support from the state and the region that we both desire. - Jim

Lyle, the MARTA guy
Lyle, the MARTA guy

Thanks, Laurel. I didn't have the chapter and verse on the federal statues but I'm always encouraged that others out there are still living in a reality-driven, fact-based world. It should also come as no surprise that labor costs almost always consume the lion's share of any company's budget, especially in service industries.

Lyle, the MARTA guy
Lyle, the MARTA guy

Thanks, Laurel. I didn't have the chapter and verse on the federal statues but I'm always encouraged that others out there are still living in a reality-driven, fact-based world. It should also come as no surprise that labor costs almost always consume the lion's share of any company's budget, especially in service industries.

Laurel
Laurel

@ Burroughston Broch
MARTA can't 'de-certify' its union because it receives federal transit funds and collective bargaining rights are protected by Section 5333(b) of Title 49 U.S. Code.

And even if it could 'get rid' of the union that would in no way solve MARTA's financial problems. Already MARTA's unionized employees are some of lowest paid transit employees in the country. The reality is that labor costs are the highest operating costs of any transit agency.

Laurel
Laurel

@ Burroughston Broch MARTA can't 'de-certify' its union because it receives federal transit funds and collective bargaining rights are protected by Section 5333(b) of Title 49 U.S. Code. And even if it could 'get rid' of the union that would in no way solve MARTA's financial problems. Already MARTA's unionized employees are some of lowest paid transit employees in the country. The reality is that labor costs are the highest operating costs of any transit agency.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

@ Lyle, the MARTA guy

Unions can be legally de-certified, as Delta (among others) is well aware. There's no reason MARTA couldn't follow the same procedure.

I am aware that CCT is unionized, but don't know about any others. That shouldn't affect what MARTA does - if your neighbor breaks his nose, do you want to break yours?

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

@ Lyle, the MARTA guy Unions can be legally de-certified, as Delta (among others) is well aware. There's no reason MARTA couldn't follow the same procedure. I am aware that CCT is unionized, but don't know about any others. That shouldn't affect what MARTA does - if your neighbor breaks his nose, do you want to break yours?

a transit fan
a transit fan

Maria, there are many items here you could delve into. - MARTA is already spending towards variable-based fares; Jim Durrett recently suggested roll-out by 2016. - What is fair treatment of "MARTA jurisdictions" in a regional scheme. - Can game changing transit fit within the TIA. - Is the Beltline a regional transit asset or a redevelopment program. - Should we further invest in and leverage Breezecard, instead of mobile payments.

a transit fan
a transit fan

Maria, there are many items here you could delve into. - MARTA is already spending towards variable-based fares; Jim Durrett recently suggested roll-out by 2016. - What is fair treatment of "MARTA jurisdictions" in a regional scheme. - Can game changing transit fit within the TIA. - Is the Beltline a regional transit asset or a redevelopment program. - Should we further invest in and leverage Breezecard, instead of mobile payments.

a transit fan
a transit fan

Injecting money into a bad model won't fix it; we need a different model. We need to be informed by the economics. MARTA's allocated cost for a bus ride is more than twice the $2 fare, so increasing bus service for increased ridership is revenue negative. The same goes, arguably to a lesser extent, for parking decks.

a transit fan
a transit fan

Injecting money into a bad model won't fix it; we need a different model. We need to be informed by the economics. MARTA's allocated cost for a bus ride is more than twice the $2 fare, so increasing bus service for increased ridership is revenue negative. The same goes, arguably to a lesser extent, for parking decks.

Lyle, the MARTA guy
Lyle, the MARTA guy

I'm curious about Mr. Broch's comment which is not only a bad idea but also a violation of federal law. How EXACTLY do you propose that MARTA could "get rid" of the transit union? Are you also not aware that the other transit systems in the Atlanta region are also unionized? Do tell.

Lyle, the MARTA guy
Lyle, the MARTA guy

I'm curious about Mr. Broch's comment which is not only a bad idea but also a violation of federal law. How EXACTLY do you propose that MARTA could "get rid" of the transit union? Are you also not aware that the other transit systems in the Atlanta region are also unionized? Do tell.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Sorry, Maria, but I must respectfully disagree with you on some of your point about raising fares. I agree with you that MARTA shouldn't raise fares merely to increase revenues. When an urban transit agency such as MARTA decides to raise fares, they should try as much as they can to make the fare increase apart of a larger strategy to either keep service at a very high level, or better yet, expend and increase service to a premium level that benefits the entire community that it serves. The problem with MARTA is that there doesn't seem to be a serious on-going commitment to providing a maximum or premium high level of service throughout the organization (a commitment that in this town is by no means is strictly endemic to MARTA itself). There also seems to have been a historical mindset of attempting to provide service for as close to free as possible with an emphasis on serving only the lowest income riders. There doesn't seem to have been any real sustained attempt by the agency to appeal to higher-income riders on a wider scale (except maybe during the Olympics).

New York is mostly always cited as an example of a transit system that provides a really high level of service while keeping its fares low ($2.50 as of 2011), but obviously NYC is different from Atlanta in the way that in a city as ultradense as NYC transit is a must that sells itself so fares can be held at a relatively lower level as ridership is always very high out of necessity. In an ultra-low dense metro area such as Atlanta, which if I'm correct has one of the lowest densities of any major urban area on the entire planet, any transit agency has to be able to compete and hold its own against the automobile which has cult-like status in most of the U.S., but even MORE so in the Southern U.S. than other regions. Transit also has to be able to compete and hold its own against widescale pervasive ignorance of its mission and purpose as we see in Georgia on a regular basis with an outright refusal by the state to fund, plan or constructively contribute to mass transit and a general lack of understanding about how transit and, transportation in general (see GDOT), can work in an integrated multimodal manner to serve the community effectively.

Fares can be increased, it's just that with those fare increases must come a high-level of service. People will pay higher fares to ride the trains and buses if they're getting a lot in return in the manner of high-frequency trains and buses, safety, security and a comprehensive system with an extensive reach that seemingly goes everywhere there is to go in a very major city (like in Toronto where fares are $3.00/trip or in Washington DC where fares are as high as $5.00/trip). Unfortunately in an environment where no financial or constructive managerial help is forthcoming anytime soon from a state government that has time and again proven itself to be hostile to mass transit, fare increases have to remain on the table and must always be a continuing part of the conversation. Haggling over $2.50 fares so that just the minimal bare bones level of service can be continued to be provided is SO far from the conversation of expansion, efficiency and excellence that we need to be having in this community when it comes to transit and transportation as a whole in this town.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Sorry, Maria, but I must respectfully disagree with you on some of your point about raising fares. I agree with you that MARTA shouldn't raise fares merely to increase revenues. When an urban transit agency such as MARTA decides to raise fares, they should try as much as they can to make the fare increase apart of a larger strategy to either keep service at a very high level, or better yet, expend and increase service to a premium level that benefits the entire community that it serves. The problem with MARTA is that there doesn't seem to be a serious on-going commitment to providing a maximum or premium high level of service throughout the organization (a commitment that in this town is by no means is strictly endemic to MARTA itself). There also seems to have been a historical mindset of attempting to provide service for as close to free as possible with an emphasis on serving only the lowest income riders. There doesn't seem to have been any real sustained attempt by the agency to appeal to higher-income riders on a wider scale (except maybe during the Olympics). New York is mostly always cited as an example of a transit system that provides a really high level of service while keeping its fares low ($2.50 as of 2011), but obviously NYC is different from Atlanta in the way that in a city as ultradense as NYC transit is a must that sells itself so fares can be held at a relatively lower level as ridership is always very high out of necessity. In an ultra-low dense metro area such as Atlanta, which if I'm correct has one of the lowest densities of any major urban area on the entire planet, any transit agency has to be able to compete and hold its own against the automobile which has cult-like status in most of the U.S., but even MORE so in the Southern U.S. than other regions. Transit also has to be able to compete and hold its own against widescale pervasive ignorance of its mission and purpose as we see in Georgia on a regular basis with an outright refusal by the state to fund, plan or constructively contribute to mass transit and a general lack of understanding about how transit and, transportation in general (see GDOT), can work in an integrated multimodal manner to serve the community effectively. Fares can be increased, it's just that with those fare increases must come a high-level of service. People will pay higher fares to ride the trains and buses if they're getting a lot in return in the manner of high-frequency trains and buses, safety, security and a comprehensive system with an extensive reach that seemingly goes everywhere there is to go in a very major city (like in Toronto where fares are $3.00/trip or in Washington DC where fares are as high as $5.00/trip). Unfortunately in an environment where no financial or constructive managerial help is forthcoming anytime soon from a state government that has time and again proven itself to be hostile to mass transit, fare increases have to remain on the table and must always be a continuing part of the conversation. Haggling over $2.50 fares so that just the minimal bare bones level of service can be continued to be provided is SO far from the conversation of expansion, efficiency and excellence that we need to be having in this community when it comes to transit and transportation as a whole in this town.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Maria, you've fallen into the MARTA view of the world. Revenues must always rise and expenses never fall. The rest of the world is different.

MARTA should also look at reducing its expenses. Two cuts would bring major expense reductions - (1) get rid of the Amalgamated Transit Worker's Union and (2) get rid of the management team members who are not productive.

There are still some of us around that remember the union's strike from May 18, 1950 until November 16, 1950. It drove Georgia Power out of the transit business. If we expand MARTA and the union goes on strike again, what will MARTA riders do for transportation?

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Maria, you've fallen into the MARTA view of the world. Revenues must always rise and expenses never fall. The rest of the world is different. MARTA should also look at reducing its expenses. Two cuts would bring major expense reductions - (1) get rid of the Amalgamated Transit Worker's Union and (2) get rid of the management team members who are not productive. There are still some of us around that remember the union's strike from May 18, 1950 until November 16, 1950. It drove Georgia Power out of the transit business. If we expand MARTA and the union goes on strike again, what will MARTA riders do for transportation?