Future of Xpress bus service so rosy that GRTA looking for better bus barn

By David Pendered

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the likelihood of future state funding for Xpress bus service.

GRTA is looking for a better place to store and maintain its fleet of Xpress buses.

This is a dramatic turn-about for a transit service that seemed imperiled by the failure of the 2012 transportation sales tax referendum. The future is rosier, now that Gov. Nathan Deal and the Legislature have inserted money for Xpress bus operations into the state’s continuation budget.

Jannine Miller

Jannine Miller

“We feel more confident than we had before,” said GRTA Executive Director Jannine Miller.

GRTA is beginning to explore its options for a bus facility because a land lease for an existing service facility is due to expire in summer 2014. The leased property is one of two used by GRTA.

The property leased for $114,000 a year is located in Forest Park, on Cash Memorial Boulevard. GRTA’s other bus facility is 1.25 miles away, on Frontage Road in Forest Park, on land shared with the Georgia Department of Transportation, according to Kirk Fjelstul, GRTA’s general counsel.

Because neither site is adequate to meet the needs of GRTA’s fleet, inefficiencies abound in everything from fueling buses to maintaining engines to washing bus exteriors, Fjelstul told GRTA’s board at its Aug. 14 meeting.

GRTA was to receive a total of $128 million if voters had approved in 2012 the proposed sales tax for transportation. Credit: Atlanta Regional Commission

GRTA was to receive a total of $128 million if voters had approved in 2012 the proposed sales tax for transportation. Credit: Atlanta Regional Commission

“We’re having to have mobile fuel tankers at Frontage Road because not enough room at Cash, and there’s a premium on mobile fueling,” Fjelstul said. “We’re washing buses by hand. Maintenance is being done by a mobile truck … because we can’t, logistically, get it all done when we need it at Cash.”

None of this comes as any surprise, Fjelstul said. As Xpress service has increased, the bus fleet has grown and has outgrown GRTA’s ability to provide efficient fleet service. Facilities reached maximum capacity for efficiency in 2008, which was when the financial disruptions of the recession began taking effect.

Fjelstul sketched this timeline:

  • 2004 – Xpress service begins and a contractor leases the site on Cash Memorial Boulevard to service 38 vehicles;
  • 2007 – GRTA changes contractors and assumes the ground lease to serve a fleet of 80 buses;
  • 2009 – Cash Memorial Boulevard is too small to serve 94 vehicles, so GRTA stores buses at the Atlanta Flea Market until space becomes available at the GDOT site on Frontage Road;
  • 2010 – The counties can’t make payments to GRTA, a sum that reached $21 million in 2003;
  • 2012 – GRTA funding is included in the proposed transportation sales tax – a total of $128 million through 2022, with $95 million to come from the sales tax and $33 million from the federal government. Voters reject the proposed sales tax.
Xpress route map

Xpress buses serve 2 million riders a year in 12 metro Atlanta counties. Credit: Xpress.com

Though Fjelstul didn’t mention 2013, an entry would include more than $8.6 million state funding for Xpress.

The money came in the form of a one-time payment of $567,000 that kept buses rolling through June, and an additional $8.1 million for Fiscal Year 2014 (which started July 1) that Deal inserted in such a way that facilitates efforts to provide future state funding.

GRTA is seeking to establish a bus repair facility through a lease or owner situation that meets the following criteria:

Bus storage – 105 spaces;

Employee parking – 138 spaces;

Maintenance facility – six to eight bays;

Storage for parts and inventory – 1,500 square feet;

Stationary fueling facility;

Automatic bus wash;

Land area – 8 to 10 acres.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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