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Commentary: The transit divide widens with election

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

The Nov. 8 election produced a major win for MARTA.  Nearly 130,000 Atlanta voters, or 71.34 percent, approved a half-penny sales tax to expand MARTA within the city limits.

At the same time, the city voted to increase overall transportation funding by a .4 of a penny sales tax.

This is in addition to the one-cent sales tax that the city of Atlanta has been investing in the MARTA system since 1971 – when Fulton and DeKalb counties also voted in favor of the regional transit system.

Since then, only one new county has joined the system – Clayton County in 2014.

Atlanta’s vote will create a wider divide in our region between the transit rich and the transit poor – the communities with a robust rail and bus system and the communities without.

The city has been enjoying the benefits from its investment in MARTA in recent years. Most of the major economic development announcements have been located near MARTA stations, and most of those have been within the city limits. Think NCR Corporation, GE, Kaiser Permanente, among many others.

The counties without a rail transit system are seeing several of their top companies relocating to places served by MARTA, reversing the decades-long trend of businesses moving to the suburbs.

So why are companies moving near MARTA stations?

Simple. They want to employ the best and the brightest college graduates, and that demographic wants to be able to live, work, learn and play in places where they do not need to own a car.

There are few areas in our region that provide the transportation alternatives that Atlanta offers. And that divide will only become more apparent as MARTA and the City of Atlanta begin to invest their new half-penny in expanded bus service and light rail lines.

This parallels continued investments in sidewalks, bicycle lanes and multipurpose trails – all key ingredients in creating a more walkable and livable city.

Meanwhile, the rest of Fulton County, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett passed local sales taxes to invest in transportation – primarily roads – which will only deepen the transit divide.

The longer Atlanta’s neighbors hesitate in joining our regional transit system, the more we will become a tale of two cities.

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