By Maggie Lee
A major new bill aims to get Georgians who don’t have cars on the road, even if they don’t live in transit-dense metro Atlanta. As much as $60 million per year to fund it all would come from folks taking Uber, Lyft, taxis and limos.
The problem, as state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, and other bill sponsors see it is that there are lots of people outside metro Atlanta whose lives could be changed for the better with reliable rides, but offerings in their communities might be impractical or even nonexistent.
The solution proposed in a new 68-page bill is to mobilize 25 to 50 cents per ride taken via ride shares, limos and taxis, plus a new state department, to work on “mobility and innovation.”
For example: businesses could get a tax credit if they hire unemployed people and provide transportation to them, in a pilot program in the bill. That transportation could be, say, a shuttle bus or a voucher for Uber, Lyft or a taxi.
Another pilot program would give travel vouchers to residents of counties with the highest unemployment and the lowest income — as long as they use those vouchers to get to work or school.
In charge of this would be a new Georgia Department of Mobility and Innovation that brings together transit functions (and office space and staff) that are now spread out among several state departments.
That department would be a one-stop-shop for all things state and transit.
“They [would] get up every single day with one thing on their mind, and that is providing mobility, transit and alternative transportation services to all the residents in our state; and how to expand those,” said Tanner, presenting his bill to the state House Transportation Committee at its initial hearing late last month.
Taxi and limo rides do have state sales taxes tacked on to them already, though Uber has gone to court disputing its liability to the same tax.
Tanner’s bill gets rid of sales taxes on all those rides and replaces them with a flat fee: 50 cents per ride, or 25 cents per pooled ride.
“Thirty million dollars to $60 million dollars can remove a whole lot of barriers for a whole lot of people in our state,” he said.
The bill also creates eight state mobility zones, each with a council and a planner that look at what their own zone needs.
For example, county bus services tend to stop at the county line: no help to people who live in one county and work in another. But the point of these “zones” is to try and get people out of their county silos and figure out better ways to do things.
Most counties have some kind of public transit — even if it is just a modest on-call bus service. Though 36 counties have no transit service at all.
And for the counties that do have transit and do go after state money, Tanner said those communities complain about having to go to multiple state agencies, each with separate requirements, inspections or reports.
Under his bill, “GMobile” would be the one state place for communities to go.
There’s a ninth zone, metro Atlanta, where The ATL is the umbrella transit agency for 13 counties.
This bill moves The ATL under GMobile for administrative purposes. GMobile’s commissioner would be double as the leader of The ATL, as well as the leader of the State Road and Tollway Authority. SRTA handles things like operating Georgia’s express lanes.
The bill also abolishes the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and moves its functions — like evaluating the transportation impact of major projects — to The ATL.
Tanner’s bill seems likely to be successful in the House. In its first committee hearing, the bill attracted only technical questions plus several compliments.
But the bill has gotten some pushback from the State Transportation Board, which oversees the Georgia Department of Transportation.
That board approved a resolution asking that GDOT and its transit programs be kept intact. Among the stated reasons why: the department already has a relationship with the federal government, local governments and helps in planning for all kinds of modes of transportation already.