By Guest Columnist JIM DURRETT, executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District
Last month the Buckhead Community Improvement District, or “CID,” now 14 years old, celebrated 10 continuous years offering free bus service for workers, residents and visitors, featuring our shuttle, which we named “the buc.”
The purpose of this transit service is to augment existing MARTA bus service on Peachtree and Piedmont, and offer “last-mile connectivity” for commuters using MARTA to get to and from work. Why did the Buckhead CID choose to do this and, perhaps more importantly, why should you care and bother to read this?
For a regionally-significant urban activity and jobs center to prosper, you need to have adequate flow of goods and people into and out of the center as well as within the center. I mean transportation. And you need to pay attention to both the supply side of the transportation equation as well as the demand side of the equation.
On the supply side, what kind of infrastructure are you putting on the ground? Are you investing in transit and the right kind of roads to move people and goods into and out of the center? Are you creating a walkable urban place by investing in safe sidewalks and bike lanes as part of a complete street program within the center?
And for those who arrive and depart via MARTA train or bus, if they can’t walk or bike to and from their ultimate destination, how will they complete this “last mile” of their commute trip?
On the demand side of the equation, what are you doing to educate the public about commute options: carpooling, vanpooling, transit use, flex-time work hours, teleworking? What are you doing to encourage land use changes that bring about a better balance of housing, retail and jobs within the center so that a greater proportion of jobs within the center are filled by residents of the center? What are you doing to reduce the demand for increasingly expensive transportation infrastructure?
By the end of this year, about $11.75 million will have been spent to operate the buc program over this 10-year period. A little more than half of that amount will have come from CID taxes, and a little under half will have come from other sources of funding: federal grants, advertising and sponsorship.
When we began the program, we had an annual operating budget of $1.5 million and transported about 2,200 riders per day. Then “the buc” operated from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. After a few years, grant funding dried up, and the CID had to fund the lion’s share of operating costs. We had to cut back service because the cost to continue operating as originally designed was too great a portion of our annual revenues.
Today, the budget is about $750,000 per year, the shuttle operates during morning and evening commute hours, and ridership has dropped to about 470 riders per day serving just the commuter market, not the all-day market. Just as MARTA has experienced, if you cut back service, ridership declines.
Why do we continue to do this?
For an answer, let’s remember the results of two recent reports covered on this website. In a survey recently conducted by the Atlanta Regional Commission — “Metro Atlanta Speaks,” 71.3 percent of respondents indicated that public transportation is “very important” for the Atlanta region’s future.
In addition, when asked what the best long-term solution to traffic problems in the Atlanta region is, the most cited solution was improvements to public transportation (41 percent of respondents.)
Let’s also look to the research on the Atlanta region’s walkable urban places — WalkUPs, documenting the number of existing and emerging regionally-significant WalkUPs in the region and the relationship of the value of the real estate to the degree of walkability.
Transit benefits from walkability and vice versa. The answer is that the market demands it, and the area benefits from it.
As I reflect on our past and ongoing investment in “the buc,” as well as the soon-to-be-opened pedestrian bridge over Georgia 400 that will access a new entrance to MARTA’s Buckhead Station, I am reminded of how important it is to plan for and design how multiple investments should work together for optimal impact.
I look forward to monitoring ridership on “the buc” as it passes right by this new access point on the west side of Georgia 400. And I am reminded by my colleague, Denise Starling of BATMA and Livable Buckhead, of those days long ago when early riders of “the buc” confused it for the Gold Club shuttle.