Determining a fair share for transit will be tricky for Atlanta region

By Maria Saporta

A Fair Share for Transit Rally attracted more than a hundred leaders and citizens from a couple dozen organizations and governments on Tuesday evening at the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot.

The bottom line — the 2012 referendum for a new regional transportation sales tax should have a fair share for transit and not be dominated by funding for roads.

But what is a fair share?

That was the question I asked numerous people attending the reception.

The first person I asked was Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

“I’m not going to say,” said Reed, who is a member of the executive committee of the Atlanta Regional Roundtable, which will be putting together the transportation project list that will be put before voters. “It’s too early.”

Ray Christman, executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition that organized the Fair Share event, was much more specific.

“It should be between 40 and 60 percent,” Christman said. “It should be relatively well-balanced between roads, transit and bicycle paths and sidewalks.”

Georgia State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) said it was a hard question to answer.
“I’m committed to making sure there are good solid transit projects on the list,” said Jacobs, who is chair of the legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee. “It really depends in large part upon the quality of the projects and whether they enhance mobility.”

Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, who chairs the Regional Roundtable, put it this way: “Equity is really important. Fairness is important. And process is important. I know we need it to be multimodal.”

Gordon Kenna, executive director of Georgians for Passenger Rail, said a fair share should be on the “high end” of the 40 percent to 60 percent range. “It should definitely be more than half,” he said.

Jim Stokes, a former president with the Georgia Conservancy, agreed that it should be more than half.

“It should be all of it,” A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, said half-jokingly. “If we get close to half, it would be fantastic.”

Clayton Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said a fair share would be more than half.

“The No. 1 priority on my list is transit — a new bus system, commuter rail and regional transit options for seniors,” said Bell, who is one of the 21 members of the Regional Roundtable.

Atlanta BeltLine activist Liz Coyle said transit should get at least 40 percent and up to 60 percent.

Dave Stockert, CEO of Post Properties, who is chairing the campaign efforts for the regional transportation sales tax, said he did not think it was a good idea to get into percentages at this point.

“We ought to let the Roundtable work on the list of projects,” he said. “Everybody has talked about the importance of having transit in the mix. I’m going to let the experts come up with the list.

Terry Lawler, executive director of the Regional Business Coalition, said the public will decide what a fair share for transit will be. “There’s got to be the right mix,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go to find out what that mix is going to be.”

Sally Flocks, president and CEO of the pedestrian advocacy organization — PEDs, said a case could be made that all of the regional transportation sales tax go to transit and alternative modes of transportation, such as bicycle paths and sidewalks.

“Given that 100 percent of our motor fuel tax goes to roads and bridges, I think all of it should go to transit,” she said. “I think 60 percent should be a minimum.”

The Georgia Department of Transportation did present a criteria of the minimum and maximum range that should go to various transportation modes if the sales tax referendum passes.

The range for transit capital investment was between 10 percent and 40 percent, and the range for transit operations and maintenance would be between 5 and 20 percent.

That means transit could get as little as 15 percent of the monies raised and as much as 60 percent if those guidelines hold true.

The rally was an uplifting occasion for transit advocates who clearly believed a sales tax would have a better chance of passing if transit received a fair share of the funding.

But the biggest challenge in coming up with a list of transportation projects for the entire region is convincing each geographic area and interest group that they will benefit if they approve the tax.

“A fair share — that’s in the eye of the beholder,” said Norcross Mayor Johnson. “Transit is absolutely important. We’ve got to give people choices. We’ve got to think in a regional way and to make sure this list is equitable. I pledge to you that I will do all that I can to make it happen.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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