By Maggie Lee
A new, 10-member transit governance board is expected to be one among several proposals in the state Legislature that will start a long-awaited debate about how to deepen regional cooperation over transit, and possibly initiate substantive spending by the state for buses and rail.
And some metro lawmakers already have an idea what they’re going to be looking for when all the legislation is published. Such as: where would any new state transit money coming from and where would it go?
“I think the main thing is to have a cohesive system,” said state Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), during a regularly scheduled Friday afternoon meeting of Atlanta’s Gold Dome delegates.
Now folks are just waiting for the plans for that cohesive system — and any ideas about cash for it — to be published in legislative form.
The two Republican chairs of the state House and Senate transportation committees have already talked about some of their legislative plans. Both have spent recent summers on study committees working on transit governance.
State Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) is among the legislators who’s heard from House Transportation Committee Chair Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) about his drafts. She presented a draft map to her her fellow Atlanta lawmakers that shows how district lines might be drawn for a new regional transit agency.
“Many of the uncertainties lie in what happens with additional funds that are created,” she said. “How do Gwinnett and Cobb fit into this new system; and particularly for MARTA, what happens with new money that may come from our county or that may come from some statewide taxes?”
Some of the ideas for raising money are taxes on Uber, Lyft and airport concessions.
Gardner said it’s her understanding that sales money collected in MARTA’s existing jurisdictions — Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton — would still be spent in those jurisdictions. Millar also said that he believes that’s the intent.
But he listed two things he thinks are going to be important.
“From what I understand, the thing is that most of the jurisdictions, i.e., Cobb, i.e., Gwinnett, I can speak for DeKalb: they’re very concerned about the money that is raised in their particular county, that it goes back into their counties,” he said.
Cobb and Gwinnett run their own bus systems; they don’t pay into MARTA, but would be among the 13 counties covered by this proposed regional transit board.
And Millar listed a “real sticking point” for the places that have been paying for MARTA for decades with a penny sales tax, if more folks from other places are funneled onto its trains and buses.
“When things are going to be connected to MARTA, other than the state contributing, what is everybody else going to be contributing? They’ve been using it for free. Just check your parking lots,” he said.
And as for a new proposed transit board for the 13-county metro Atlanta region, Gardner said she understands it would have the ability to do planning for the future, but not tell MARTA how to spend its money.
“We all want the system to be seamless and work together,” said Gardner. She said she’s always been in favor of a regional transit system, but she wants to know if it’s really necessary to have this plan to make it work.
“The fact of the matter is, MARTA and the Atlanta Regional Commission and SRTA and GRTA have been working on that connectivity for a number of years and have had some success,” she said.
(The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and the State Road and Tollway Authority, combined under one leadership, do several things including running metro commuter bus services. And MARTA, for example, runs the system that makes it possible to use the same fare card on its lines as well as those in Cobb and Gwinnett. )
“So it’s going to be interesting for us to watching and to be asking really good questions,” she said.
If more regionally integrated transit sounds familiar, that might be because it’s pretty much what then-Gov. Roy Barnes was trying to do by building out GRTA, according to state Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta.)
Maybe its time has come.
“That’s a longstanding vision that there’s political will for now,” Orrock said.
Want to see the whole delegation meeting? It’s on Facebook.