Fair Share for Transit urges Roundtable to add more transit projects to draft list

By Maria Saporta

Fair Share for Transit, the coalition of 81 organizations advocating for greater investment in public transportation, made a final plea for its cause on Friday.

On Monday, the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable executive committee will approve its final draft list of projects that are supposed to total $6.1 billion. The full Roundtable must approve the final list by Oct. 15.

So far, the roundtable’s executive committee has identified a total of $3. 6 billion for transit projects, but its list was still $400 million above the $6.1 billion target.

In an emailed letter to Roundtable members, the key spokesman for Fair Share — Ray Christman — made three key points. To read the full letter, click here.

The sales tax referendum that will go before voters in 2012 “is the only opportunity on the horizon to fund much-needed — and much wanted — transit projects” in the Atlanta region.

Fair Share’s goal of $4 billion for transit would still represent only 25 percent of the region’s expected transportation investments in the next 10 years.

And the $4 billion in transit funding could leverage $1.5 billion to $2 billion in federal matching funds for the region.

Christman, who also is executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition, said the current draft list of projects falls short of cost estimates for full build-out of several rail projects, including the Clifton Corridor, the Northwest Corridor (to Cobb County), and the MARTA extension to either Wesley Chapel or to Candler Road.

Another major omission on the list is the Atlanta to Griffin commuter rail line, a project that has garnered strong grassroots support and the only project that currently has a pot of matching federal dollars.

“From the outset, Fair Share has recognized the need to invest in roads as well as transit, but road projects have other funding opportunities,” Christman said. But without the regional transportation sales tax revenues, “transit has no other plan for funding.”

The letter then went on to identify a number of ways that the Roundtable could get to the $6.1 billion funding level by saving dollars on other projects that could get alternative funding from federal, state and local sources.

By comparison, Christman said that the options to fund new transit projects do not exist.

In closing, Christman stated: “On Monday, let’s send a strong signal to businesses, entrepreneurs, young professionals, residents, families and the world that the Atlanta region is serious about building an integrated transportation network.”

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.

4 replies
  1. abayomi manrique says:

    I am so happy that individuals, groups and organizations are working diligently to create an alternative and more sustainable means of transportation for citizens. The present transportation system we are utilizing now in atlanta and its environs must change as soon as possible and I hope a strong emphasis must be placed on AFFORDABLE rail transit. I hope the powers that be understands how important this is for the vast majority of people and support it.Report

    Reply
  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    @abayomi manrique

    And by “AFFORDABLE” rail transit, I presume that you mean rail transit with dirt cheap fares that are heavily subsidized by non-existent tax dollars that will not be coming down-the-pike anytime soon in a state (Georgia) dominated by right-wing anti-tax, anti-government politics, or basically an extension of the transportation philosophy that guides such “top-flight” transportation agencies as MARTA and GDOT.

    Atlanta Region transportation advocates absolutely have got to get over this notion that transit fares have to be dirt cheap and heavily subsidized by higher taxes because that just ain’t happening in ultraconservative, red-state Georgia (the reddest of the red states) anytime soon, if ever (okay, NEVER is more like it…).

    If we want to see expanded transportation options in the Atlanta Region, we are going to have to rely heavily on USER FEES in the form of ADEQUATELY-PRICED FARES for transit and TOLLS for roads because tax increases, even for something as important and critically vital as transportation infrastructure, just are not politically viable at this juncture as most any politician in Georgia who openly advocates for higher taxes will likely see their cherished political careers come to a swift and sudden end.

    Just in case some of you have been living under a rock and haven’t noticed, the largely conservative populace is in a real sour mood (understandably so) towards government right now, a sour mood caused by past government mismanagement of public funds, tax revenues (past SPLOSTs), etc, and is on the verge of a tax revolt.

    When advocating for more investment in transportation infrastructure we absolutely MUST be mindful of the current political climate and MUST advocate funding these improvements in such a way that gives our political leaders much-needed political cover, love ’em or hate ’em and what better way to give politicians feeling the searing heat from anti-tax, anti-government Tea Partiers than to propose funding mechanisms in which TRANSIT USERS PAY THEIR OWN WAY WITHOUT ANY NEW OR INCREASED TAXES.

    If you think that you’re gonna pay for these new transit lines, roads and bike paths with across-the-board new and increased taxes, then you are in serious need of a reality check and a head doctor.

    In this volatile anti-tax, anti-government political climate, the only part of the public that is going to be subsidizing transit use are the transit users themselves.Report

    Reply
  3. UrbanTraveler says:

    When you compare the cost of public transportation with the cost of owning, insuring, maintaing, and fueling a private car that serves one commuter twice each day, public transport is a bargain, even at twice the price. A problem in Atlanta is not that public transport is not affordable, but that it doesn’t collect enough of its operating costs through fares. All public transport is subsidized, and not expected to make a profit, but agencies like MARTA must have a reasonable business model. What was the point in installing the BREEZE system if we cannot contemplate a graduated-fare system that charges more for traveling farther? Just to keep track of where riders are going and to eliminate tokens? The BREEZE system gives MARTA the capability to charge for distance traveled.

    In cities like San Francisco, it will cost you $8+ to go from the airport to downtown, and over $10 one way for the longest distance. In Washington, DC a similar graduated fare system applies. There are peak and non-peak fares, and still there are discounts for daily pass holders, seniors, and others. These two systems are still expanding, while MARTA languishes. Perhaps some fares could be less if others were increased- get the fare of traveling one or two stops down to a dollar and charge $5 to go from Harstfield-Jackson to North Springs. This might actually encourage more trips by MARTA rail during workers’ lunch hours. More riders equals more revenue equals more constituency for better and more frequent service.

    Report

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  4. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    @UrbanTraveler

    I don’t just like your comments, I LOVE your comments about transit funding and fare pricing. You, my friend, sound like you are one of the few people on either side of the transportation debate in North Georgia that actually “gets it”.

    For the last four decades we’ve tried this approach of attempting to price transit fares as cheaply as possible so that we can accomodate the poorest amongst us while waiting for heavy tax subsidies from the state that have never come and never will come (heck, the state doesn’t even want to be responsible for funding the maintenance and building of the roads that it’s legally responsible for, much less transit that it’s NOT legally responsible for) and all that we’ve ended with is an increasingly bare-bones transit system that doesn’t even appeal to the poorest and least fortunate amongst us as poor people without cars usually bolt from being dependent on a dying transit system and go buy a car as soon as they can become even the least-bit financially able to do so.

    Good, quality mass transit costs money, but it still costs considerably less than the costs of owning a vehicle in an automobile-overdependent city with virtually no other option than to fight some of the world’s worst traffic every morning and afternoon.

    Excellent ideas about lowering the fares of local travel and raising the fares on longer-distance travel in a graduated-fare system.

    Speaking of graduated fares and zone pricing in transit-heavy cities like San Francisco and Washington DC, the Metrorail system in DC has both a system of increased peak-hour fares and increased peak-hour zone pricing. For example, it costs $5.00 to board the Metro subway from the Foggy Bottom Station in Downtown Washington, simply because Foggy Bottom is the busiest subway station in the Metro system having the higher passenger counts than any other Metro station.

    Anytime that MARTA proposes raising fares even as little as a quarter, so-called self professed advocates for the poor and the homeless storm the streets and almost literally scream “Bloody Murder” as if it’s the end-of-the-world. These groups insistence on keeping fares as low as possible combined with minimal public subsidies (as we all know, MARTA only receives funding from a one-cent sales tax in Fulton and DeKalb Counties and no help from the rest of the region or state) have given us a system that circa-2011 only appeals to the homeless and no one else, except in times of emergency like when gas prices went through the roof in 2005 and 2008. Report

    Reply

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