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Citizen committee could help MARTA set priorities for future expansion

MARTA Downtown. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Metro Atlanta relies on a sales tax to help pay for transit services provided by MARTA, the region's largest transit operator. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

By Guest Columnist KEN GREGOR, a former MARTA CEO and general manager, and former chair of MARTA’s board

Building priorities with construction sequencing was a constantly recurring, difficult and frequently divisive issue throughout MARTA’s history. It was made more complex with limited funding. On several occasions the participating counties and cities disagreed on the priority choices and, as a result, the construction schedules were sometimes adversely impacted.

Ken Gregor

Ken Gregor

Ideally and simplistically it is frequently argued that cost effectiveness, in effect, patronage and construction cost estimates should be the controlling factors in determining priorities and sequencing. However, since MARTA operates within a political as well as economic environment, political factors need to be a consideration. Yet, local political issues or preferences cannot be unreasonably over emphasized at the expense of prudent cost and patronage forecasts if federal funds are expected.

For instance, in one case where MARTA included a rail line that the Federal Transit Administration indicated failed the cost-effectiveness test, federal funds were not made available. As a result the line had to be financed exclusively with local funds.

If the MARTA construction program is to move forward in an expedited manner, the differences between the Clifton Corridor proponents and the Atlanta BeltLine advocates obviously have to be resolved quickly. It has been my observation and experience that when competing interests arrive at compromised and reasonable determinations, their local elected officials make more desirable and suitable decisions on an accelerated basis.

After my 27 years at MARTA, in both executive and board positions, and having been intimately involved in the building of the rail system, one of the more effective and successful methods of determining building priorities is through the use of a citizen committee.

MARTA Downtown. Credit: Kelly Jordan

As MARTA’s managers set priorities for expansion, they could benefit from recommendations made by a citizen committee. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

In one case in which MARTA employed a citizen committee, the committee revised the rail program and enumerated its construction priorities. The citizen committee was composed of community and business leaders impacted by the construction, as well as representatives from educational institutions and various governmental agencies that would benefit from transit operations. The members were appointed by the participating governments.

After much “pushing and shoving,” the committee reached consensus and adopted recommendations that were ultimately accepted by the governments. As a matter of fact, MARTA’s successful resolution of the priorities issue enabled the authority to obtain more federal funds than it anticipated because it had “our local act together,“ while many of our competitive transit agencies in other cities that also sought federal funds could not agree on building and construction priorities, and other important transit issues.

MARTA will always face political and economic issues of transit modes and priorities as well as insufficient funding. A satisfactory model for determining priorities that is developed now can be applicable in the future as more communities embrace transit.

Note to readers: Ken Gregor was a member of MARTA’s staff for 23 years, including 12 years as CEO and general manager. Subsequently, Gregor served as a member of MARTA’s board, including service as chairman of the board.


marta matters

A ‘MARTA Matters’ emblem on the back of a bus reminds of the transit system’s significance in metro Atlanta. Credit: Kelly Jordan


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  1. kaystephenson August 13, 2018 2:02 pm

    Couldn’t agree more that these decisions must be based on facts. That’s why I’m so disappointed in reviewing MARTA’s technical summary for the More MARTA project list that the team considered where the job centers are, but did not take into account where the people that travel to those job centers live. Most traveling to the Emory area are traveling from the Northwest (Dekalb & Gwinnett county) while more people are traveling to Piedmont Hospital from Southwest Atlanta.

    They also didn’t include an assessment of how population growth is projected to change over the period (huge growth for the region with higher growth within the city limits than in the suburbs) or where within the city the Atlanta City Design anticipates that growth happening (development will be along major corridors on the south and west side of the city). We can’t plan for spending over a forty year period by looking in the review mirror at a snapshot of where we were in 2016 and earlier.

    The current More MARTA plan doesn’t seem to recognize that Atlanta now owns all of the land we need to purchase for the BeltLine – yes there are a couple of small areas were easements need to be negotiated along CSX ROW, but do we really believe that won’t happen in the next couple of years? If that’s what we believe, why did anyone ever support the BeltLine, because that plan hasn’t changed in 15 years.

    I’m also disappointed that the More MARTA survey is so flawed. When you only allow people to choose among a pre-selected list of options, and omit the one that many really want, you only fool yourself with the results. If there is one message that we have heard from the current administration over and over it is that we are striving for equity in our city. I hope that the MARTA board will reconsider the proposed project list because the current proposal leaves #twothirdsnotserved.Report

  2. kaystephenson August 13, 2018 2:06 pm

    Should have said, Most traveling to the Emory area are traveling from the Northeast (Dekalb & Gwinnett county)”Report

  3. brainstar8 August 21, 2018 10:34 am

    Good idea. MARTA has never been successful in the 50-plus years it’s been around. Also a good idea, an Airport Authority to get the Mayor’s Office out of the pay-off biz and into the hands of the people who constantly tell her (as we have told her successors without results), we need better services. We need a community that adds value to our lives – including better streets and roads, lower crime rates, better schools. Not more big buildings, new restaurants and bars, nor more festivals and road races that add to traffic problems.Report

  4. Steve Hagen October 4, 2018 8:17 pm

    I agree with much of what you write. That is why I sure hope Marta gets going quickly with more bus routes that fit commuter needs. Bus routes can be adjusted, rail can’t. And yes, allow buses to change signals.Report


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