Type to search

Maria's Metro

Georgia in midst of transit crisis; stabilization needed; state leaders look the other way

Let me paint you a picture.

MARTA is facing a potential $120 million operating shortfall come July 1, a situation that will cause drastic decreases in transit service.

The Clayton bus system — C-Tran — is scheduled to end its service April 1 because the Clayton County Commission decided it could no longer afford being in the transit business.

The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority’s X-Press bus service in 2011 is facing an end to its federal new starts funding for many of its routes, which means that service will have to be eliminated or significantly reduced.

Cobb County Transit, which celebrated its 20th year anniversary last year, is facing budget challenges, and for the first time it might have to cut back on its bus operations.

In all, there 120 different transit systems across the state, and almost all of them are in a financial squeeze.

It all comes down to lack of stable funding for transit operations in Georgia.

Given the transit crisis that we’re facing, the logical response would be for state leaders to come up with a solution.

But when Gov. Sonny Perdue was asked this week whether there were any proposals to address this transit crisis, the governor answered: “I’m not aware of anything.”

Instead, the governor, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston stood together cooperatively supporting a transportation funding plan.

The three-part plan called for giving 12 regions an opportunity to vote on a one-cent transportation sales tax in the spring of 2012, and that tax would be implemented in each region if passed by a majority of voters.

The second part of the plan called for issuing $300 million in general obligation bonds each year for 10 years — for a total of $3 billion — to invest primarily in the state’s freight infrastructure. None of that money is proposed to go to transit.

And the third part of the proposal called for a three-year suspension of the onerous state restriction that says MARTA must spend 50 percent of sales tax income on capital and 50 percent on operations.

MARTA’s sales tax is collected in just Fulton, DeKalb and Atlanta, without state support. MARTA is the only transit system in the country with such a restriction, and it is the largest transit system in the country that receives no operating support for its state.

The governor was asked why he didn’t propose eliminating that restriction altogether, Perdue answered: “We want MARTA to go in and prove they are good stewards.”

Again, MARTA gets no operating dollars from the state. So shouldn’t it really be up to Fulton, DeKalb and Atlanta to provide oversight on how MARTA spends their money?

Still, giving MARTA flexibiity is good, and would have definitely come in handy in earlier years. But today it is no panacea.

MARTA faces a major capital expense — $180 million — to upgrade its train control system over the next several years. MARTA has been operating with a basic system that was installed 30 years ago.

But after Washington, D.C.’s Metro system had a serious accident last year, the National Transportation Safety Board mandated upgrades to all major transit systems.

So flexibility will not help MARTA reduce some of its operating shortfall for the foreseeable future.

That leaves us right back to being in the middle of a transit crisis without a plan.

The 120 transit systems throughout Georgia can’t wait until a 2012 vote is passed before they can receive additional funding support. The support is needed now.

Why should the average Georgian care?

Consider this.

GRTA’s Jim Ritchey said the X-Press buses have 8,500 daily boardings, which is equivalent to two highway lanes. In all, GRTA buses provide
40 million passenger miles a year. MARTA provides 541 million
passenger miles a year. How many highway lanes would it take to carry MARTA’s passengers?

If transit operators throughout the state have to cut back service, that means more and more people will have no choice but to drive. Imagine what that will do to our already-congested roadways. For those who like driving cars, supporting transit is in their self interest.

A solid cost-benefit analysis would compare how much it would cost the state to build several extra lanes of highways vesus how much it would cost to improve transit operations.

Beverly Scott, MARTA’s general manager, said our rail system currently is only operating at 30 percent of its planned capacity. Trains could run at 90-second intervals instead of every six to 12 minutes during its peak operations.

So instead of facing drastic cuts in transit operations, we should be talking about expanding our transit service, both by maximizing our existing infrastructure and by developing a true regional transit network.

Ttransit plans exist. The Atlanta Regional Commission’s Regional Transit Committee (formerly the Transit Planning Board) has a comprehensive plan for metro Atlanta.

But even if the region passes a penny sales tax for transportation in 2012, we would not come close to having enough money to build out that plan.

Part of the problem is that less than half of the proposed sales tax revenues raised in the Atlanta region would go to transit. And that could be optimistic. Gov. Perdue said the state’s transportation planning director — Todd Long — would be involved in developing the project lists for each region.

Would a region or Long determine which projects would be included?

All the governor would say is that there would be a “healthy tension” between the region and the state planning director. That tension does not bode well for transit.

It was Long that determined that no transit projects would be included in this year’s $300 million general obligations bonds.

That leaves us right back to being in a transit crisis with no paddle.

So what needs to happen. Our leaders need to come up with a transit stabilization plan to provide a bridge of funding for the next three years — until regions can pass the sales tax in 2012.

Could this year’s general obligation bonds be increased to $400 million to help transit operators? Could a penny of the sales tax on gasoline be redirected to transit? Could the state buy up some assets from transit agencies to given them some operating relief?

Those are just a few ideas that our state leaders can ponder.

Just saying — “I’m not aware of anything” — just ain’t good enough.

Maria Saporta

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.



  1. Mike Klein February 15, 2010 8:33 am

    I moved to Atlanta 25 years ago from Chicago and was stunned to find virtually no mass transit and hailing a street corner cab was nearly impossible. Nothing has changed but blame lies as much with constituents who did not get ahead of their elected leaders to force change as it does with leaders who could not envision change.Report

  2. Dick Hodges February 15, 2010 11:11 am

    Another informative and challenging commentary by a truly outstanding news reporter and columnist who knows the subject. It’s a sad situation to see the state and metro area where this observer has lived, and worked, professionally and with numerous community service organizations for more than 60 years, move down the highway toward serious economic trouble instead of up the track to more of the economic progress that epitomized metro Atlanta for most of the last half century. This continuing failure to move forward quickly to deal responsibly with transporation challenges seems to be the result of considerably more interest in gaining, or retaining, political power than in true public service manifesting vision and courage. There’s still time for meaningful action, but probably not much.Report

  3. BPJ February 15, 2010 11:39 am

    Mr. Klein is right; if you think we need more transit funding but you have not communicated that to your legislators – then you are part of the problem.

    We need to let the Governor, the DOT and our legislators know that if the list of proposed projects for metro Atlanta is light on transit, the sales tax will probably get voted down. The leadership at the ARC have a sound understanding of what metro Atlanta needs, and the Governor should listen to them.Report

  4. William W. Lee February 15, 2010 12:43 pm

    My questions are: Why is it the State’s responsibility to fund such an expensive means of transporting people? If there isn’t a financially viable means of transporting people why does it fall to the State to throw our money down the sewer? If someone, (individual/corporation) wants to take on the job, then it should fall upon those interested to workout the funding and financing. Mass transit without freight is the most expensive means of transportation, and always will be.

    What I find interesting is the ignorance of the law of “Supply and Demand.” There is a means of transporting people and relieving the traffic congestion. But enough people are not riding it. So what you do to motivate people to ride it, is you increase the cost of riding! Does this make sense? To get more people to ride, wouldn’t it make more sense to reduce the cost and make that an incentive to get more people on board? If you raise the price I would expect fewer people being drawn to ride, just because of the increased financial hardship. You reduce the cost to the rider and you draw more riders, and thus more revenue.

    Not only that but, the Federal money sent to the State for transportation designates how the money is to spent, including what percentage is to be spent on mass transit. When did the Government become more efficient at spending money than the individual?

    If a private business can’t survive, why is it necessary for the Government to support it? Isn’t that what the free market economy is about? Who in Government decides which businesses survive and which ones fail?Report

  5. Maria Saporta February 15, 2010 4:38 pm

    Mason, I couldn’t have said this better myself. Thank you for writing. MariaReport

  6. Mason Hicks February 15, 2010 5:04 pm

    First of all Mr. Lee, the “free market” as you describe it doesn’t actually exist and never did. If our common infrastructure was left solely to the laws of supply and demand, where nothing could be built until an individual, or even a group of investors poneyed-up, then we would have a landscape and infrastructure this is very similar to what existed in Haiti prior to the earthquake. Once you leave your driveway, you are in fact, in public domain. Your question should then extend to why it should be left up to the State or local government to provide our road and highway system, our public safety and law enforcement.
    Can we now start by agreeing that an infrastructure system that’s supports 5 million plus Metro Atlanta inhabitants in the way that it does would be entirely impossible without local, State and Federal support? Other than the portion of Georgia 400, from Buckhead to the northern perimeter, and the St. Simons Bridge every stretch of highway in the state was built and is maintained by state general revenues. Not a single lineal foot of a single lane is or ever has been privately funded. A portion of the highway budget, a very small portion comes from a statewide tax on motor fuels. This tax is applied by fluid volume, not price per gallon, so it hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since its inception; and due to the wording of the Constitutional Amendment that invoked this tax, the use of revenues generated are restricted to being used on roads and bridges. We have a state transportation system that in terms of per-capita funding commitment only beats that of Alaska. Of course we all now know that everyone in Alaska has their own float-plane, and only needs a large lake or body of water to land in and take off from; other’s can use dog teams. Despite this funding shortfall, our rural highway system is well built and extensive. This is because in Georgia, 60% of statewide revenue is generated in Metro Atlanta, while only 17% of those funds are spent in Metro Atlanta. It is in our state’s urban areas where our lack of commitment to infrastructure hurts the most.
    We have now exceeded a point where we can no-longer simply pave our way out of the grid-lock which is strangling us and causing industry to start looking elsewhere for growth opportunities. We past that point some time ago. More and more, people want alternatives to driving their cars. Companies want transportation options for their employees. We in Metro Atlanta and now also in other parts of the state are in perpetual non-compliance with State and Federal air-quality standards, which means that we will not be eligible for Federal matching funds for road projects while this is the case. Historically most if not all major highway funding in this state would have been impossible without such funding support. Also, by being almost solely dependent on the automobile, we lie at the mercy of the price of gas at the pump, where the next terrorist attack or major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico could bring us to our knees.
    Rail transportation is many times more efficient at moving people than could ever be possible with private cars, or even buses. Even in a state where the majority of our electric power is produced by burning coal, moving masses of people by electric motive power is watt-for-watt and BTU-for-BTU much cleaner and better for the environment than using fossil-fueled internal combustion engines. Moving to cleaner methods for generating electricity will only further improve this fact. The cost of laying track is exponentially cheaper than building highway per lane-mile, mainly because the sectional footprint of rail right-of-way is generally much narrower than what is required to build two lanes of highway, and are much more easily maintained, since rails last much longer than concrete or asphalt pavement. Also electrically powered vehicles of any type generally require much less maintenance than does their diesel or gasoline powered counterparts.
    This is not about forcing you out of your car or truck. It’s not about trying to get everyone off the road, its about getting the driver next to you, or in front of you, (or maybe even you) to make some of the more routine trips with transit. If that driver next to you takes the train instead, then you do not have to deal with him, and you are in fact benefitting from transit. Every time a bus passes you on the highway apron, every 1.2 passengers on that bus represent a car that is not on the road with you, you are benefitting from transit. Critics have often stated and predicted that providing increased transit options would result in empty trains; that people wouldn’t give up their cars to ride the train. This has been disproven repeatedly. Transit and rail transport has been experiencing record ridership despite the failing economic conditions. Charlotte’s transit planners, with their new “LYNX” light rail line met their forecasted 2025 ridership levels LAST YEAR, despite the fact that this forecast was based on assumed levels of available rail service and coverage that were only planned and that does not yet exist. Elsewhere in the Southeast and beyond new rail-based systems are strongly exceeding the planners most optimistic ridership numbers. The goal is not to end road building, but to modernize our infrastructure with a balanced sustainable approach that allows you to, if you choose, to leave your car in the driveway or garage at times; to give your car and yourself a break.Report

  7. Scott February 15, 2010 5:24 pm

    I think the problem with government is the “no new taxes…no way” mantra that has come to dominate politics. Budgets have 2 sides, revenue, and expenditures. Georgia’s government is one of the most efficient in the country, thus, there is very little left to cut. Revenue is the problem or lack of revenue. There’s an old saying “there aint no free lunch”, and we are not going to ever be able to pay for transit without raising taxes, period. It wont happen. The republicans under the gold dome have painted themselves into a corner. They have whipped people into a frenzy about no new taxes, and now they need to raise additional revenue and have a well trained populace that will see any tax as bad. It seems these days that logic and fact no longer have much sway…watch/read Orwell’s 1984 and see if you dont get a cold chill when you are done.Report

  8. ACC 12 Booster February 15, 2010 6:02 pm

    Opportunity cost….if MARTA, C-Tran, Cobb Community Transit, GRTA’s X-Press and the other nearly 120 transit systems in the state want to continue to provide service then they’re going to have to raise fares to a level high enough to keep operating, it’s that simple. These systems can’t look to the state to solve their revenue problems because 1-the state is having severe financial problems of its own and 2-its not necessarily the state’s responsibility to financially keep these systems operating.

    Clayton County, in particular, had the opportunity to make a tough political decision and its raise bus fares to keep the system operating and instead chose to punt that decision off to the state and the state made the decision for them…the decision to not get involved in making a political decision that the locals just weren’t willing to make. Gwinnett County has already decided to cut some routes that had low ridership in order to keep the entire system operating and may have to choose to cut more or raise fares. Simple opportunity cost, raise fares or cut service, its that simple.

    I’ve always wondered why commuters in this state think that the only way to fund transportation operations in this state is thru tax increases only. The best way to fund transportation improvements at this time is to stop waiting for pigs to fly because the Georgia General Assembly just is not going to raise taxes to build train lines and run buses, much less divert a penny from the state’s already way-too-meager gasoline tax for transit. The reality is that the political climate for tax increases and transit-building in and around Metro Atlanta just simply does not exist in the state legislature at this time and never really has existed and most likely never really will.

    If you want to fund vast upgrades to bus, rail and road service in Georgia then you best bet at this time in this political and economic environment is going to have to be to propose funding and operations of any new infrastructure in this state with user fees in the form of transit fares and tolls high enough to fund the construction, operation and mantenance of that new infrastructure. State legislators aren’t going to step out on a limb and commit political suicide by proposing to raise taxes in this political and economic climate of tea parties and tax revolts. Statewide voters never really have been in the mood to raise taxes to give to MARTA and they especially aren’t in the mood now to vote for tax increases of any kind in the midst of the worst economic downturn. We can sit here and wish for it all we want until we turn blue in the face, but tax increases in Georgia just ain’t happening.

    User fees, especially tolls, haven’t been too popular of a suggestion either (just remember the hell that was raised when the state suggested putting tolls on GA 316 to fund eliminating at-grade intersections on that road a few years ago), but its easier to sell increased user fee-funding because the perception is that only the people who use the road, bus or train pay for it, not the entire taxpaying public. Just think about how much easier the political sales job could possibly be to fund transportation improvements with user fees instead of taxes: Only the people who use it will pay for it.

    I’m not saying that user fees have to be a permanent strategy, but user fees could be employed as a way to get a potentially popular railway or heavily-used roadway built like, let’s say the long-proposed “Brain-Train”. We could fund the construction and initial operation and maintenance of the Brain Train with increased fares and let the public decide whether to buy-in with a sales tax-increase to further wide-scale infrastructure improvements later on after the new rail line proved to be socially and politically popular. User-fee funding could also give hesitant politicans some political cover to support long overdue infrastructure improvements.

    I’m not saying that user-fee funding is a panacea, but at least it helps to get the severely needed roadway and rail line start to move towards finally built, something that’s just not happening in Georgia right now.Report

  9. Mason Hicks February 16, 2010 9:17 am

    First of all, this is in no way a county issue, Clayton, Gwinnett, Fulton, or otherwise. This is a regional issue, AND a state issue; regardless of whether or not the rural politicos can understand this. User fees at best will only be sufficient to cover operational expenses of a transport system, whether it new highway or rail. The capital cost are simply too high. The scale required to cover ROW and construction cost of a new system would be in line with having to pay $10.00 just to drive past your mailbox. And when paired against an existing infrastructure that while inadequate, still has artificially low to non-existent point-of-use cost, failure is guaranteed. That’s reality. Another reality is that none of this will be built unless there is a great deal of Federal help. We have just learned the hard way that Federal support doesn’t occur unless the State demonstrates, as North Carolina, Florida, California, and Illinois have that they are committed to investing in their transportation infrastructure. We have just been slapped in the face for our state’s failing in this regard. And why should we have received that support when we are sitting on over $100 million in Federal funding for rail transport that we haven’t used? That included $87.5 million devoted for the start of development of a commuter rail line that would eventually run to Macon. That check has been sitting around, unspent, depreciating, and gathering dust for over a decade. When US Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood told me that we would enter the discussion of High Speed Rail “when Georgia gets its act together…” THAT was exactly what he was talking about. That check did not go to Clayton County. That check went to the Georgia Department of Transportation. And there it sits, all for want of a matching $15 million to cover an operational commitment. “Call it a good faith match”. In Congress, the House Transportation Committee is now debating its six-year renewal of the “Surface Transportation Authorization Act”. When this passes that dusty check, with frayed edges will be sent back to Washington. And note, this authorization bill would’ve passed last year, but the Obama Administration requested that it be put off so that he could concentrate on Healthcare Reform. The $750,000.00, awarded to Georgia, when North Carolina received well over half a billion, and Florida received more than a billion was only the first slap in the face. The letter requesting us to send the check back will probably be the second. As the nation and the rest of the Southeast start to recover from this current “Decession”,
    I fully expect a steady progression of more such face-slaps now that Charlotte is poised to become the southern terminus of an east coast high speed rail network, with what soon will be six north-bound trains departing each day. History has shown that now that this is known, businesses will start looking at Charlotte very closely. With the very first official mention of a potential light-rail line running 9 miles, from Charlotte’s central urban core to the southern suburbs, businesses began migrating into to area, new multi-family housing complexes started to rise, and property values rose substantially. I might add that even with the economic collapse, the local economy, along the light-rail line has maintained stability. This success was due to a local light-rail line. Imagine what being the southern terminus of a high speed rail network linking to Washington, and the entire Northeast can do for a city. Remember the name “Terminus”?
    The Atlanta business community and the Greater Atlanta Chamber of Commerce are acutely aware of this and they are starting to make their growing anger over the political failings of our state leadership known. They are currently planning their political strategy. We who support transit development are not a flighty bunch, nor are we ignorant. We completely understand the political realities of our state. After Almost eight years of Sonny, Glenn, “Chips Ahoy”, and the like, how could we not? We also completely understand the financial and political realities of doing what we are suggesting that needs to be done. While less expensive and more cost effective than highway construction, there is no way around the fact that it is staggeringly expensive. But there are also very acute realities that we will face should we fail to do this. The cost of inaction is being felt already in this economy and will only grow exponentially as the economy rebounds. It will come in the form of opportunity lost.
    The citizens of Georgia I believe are fully capable of understanding why it is important for the state to support the investment in its transportation future. Doing so involves education of the people, in a way not provided for in the standard political “Don’t raise my taxes!!”mantra. I believe that that is where the Metro-Atlanta Chamber, ARC, and other such groups should pool their resources for greatest effect. That was how California sold its High Speed Rail idea to its citizenry, (http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/).
    It is also up to us to express to our elected leadership that this is a vital concern to us. Yes, we are in difficult times right now, money is tight, I and a great many of my colleagues have lost our jobs once or twice in the recent years, but our opportunity window maybe closing. This IS about jobs. This is about investment in our future and the future of our kids. We have never recovered from anything by remaining inactive. It’s time to build things again. It is time to stop listening to those who pound their chest only to tell us what we can’t do. We need to DO again.Report

  10. ACC 12 Booster February 16, 2010 2:05 pm

    Mason Hicks:

    “First of all, this is in no way a county issue, Clayton, Gwinnett, Fulton or otherwise. This is a regional issue AND a state issue; regardless of whether or not the rural politicos can understand this.”

    But that’s the problem, the rural politicos, in Georgia in particular, likely don’t understand this and most likely don’t care. Even in the midst of the worst budget crisis during the Great Depression, Georgia’s political leaders, lead by Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, are proposing to cut taxes even more starting with a cut to the capital gains tax which will cut state revenues even more than they’ve already been cut.

    The new proposal by Gov. Perdue to let different parts of the state, namely Metro Atlanta, vote for a new sales tax for transportation for their region has its own difficulties because in Metro Atlanta Fulton and DeKalb Counties already pay a penny sales tax to fund MARTA and may not be too hot to the idea of paying another penny on top of that. I already know that transportation improvements are very expensive and have to be paid for in some way. My question for you Mr. Hicks and the rest of the transit advocacy crowd to consider is if you can’t pay transportation improvements through the use of a tax increase, which is highly unlikely in the current political and economic environment in Georgia for, in your case transit improvements and advances and in my case for both transit and road advances, then how would you propose paying for those improvements if, lets say, that the citizens of Georgia were to adamantly oppose a sales tax increase and that option were to be permanently off the table?

    You don’t necessarily have to address me because I would be somewhat willing to support a minor sales tax increase in concert with the use of user fees, because lets face it, the sales tax increase that’s on the table still isn’t enough to adequately fund all of the road and rail improvements that Metro Atlanta and North Georgia really need to invest in it’s economic future. In addition, unless there is a dramatic sea change in the Georgia General Assembly in the future, you can probably count out the possibility of any kind of significant federal help coming anytime soon because Georgia’s conservative legislative leaders have kind of a hostile relationship with the feds and kind of always have, but especially with the decidedly left-leaning Obama Administration. There was an article about it in the Jacksonville (FL) newspaper yesterday and how Georgia’s chilly relationship with the feds may affect specifically how much help it gets on issues pertaining to water and transportation though it’s not anything that anyone who follows Georgia politics didn’t already really know.

    I’ve only proposed leaning heavily on user-fees, in the form of higher transit fares and highway tolls, because I know that there is virtually no political will to raise taxes in Georgia state politics, even for items as critical as education and transportation. Unfortunately, our state politicians don’t give a damn about how far along North Carolina and Florida are in their transit planning. Georgia politicians only care about staying in good enough graces with the anti-tax, anti-government Tea Party contingent of the Republican Party to get re-elected.

    BTW, in addition to advancing their planning for rail projects, Florida funds almost all of its new road construction and operations through tolls and North Carolina has, in recent years, been the center for one of the most concentrated areas for roadbuilding in the country (I-485 around Charlotte, I-540 around Raleigh, I-840/Painter Blvd around Greensboro), so contrary to popular local belief, Georgia ain’t exactly setting the world ablaze in roadbuilding investments either. An oft-cited stat that Georgia invests less in transportation per capita than any other state besides Alaska continues to illustrate that stark reality, unfortunately.Report

  11. Mason Hicks February 16, 2010 3:42 pm

    There’s not much that you wrote that I disagree with, other than perhaps I have slightly more confidence in “Georgia Joe”. For the record I am no, nor will I ever be a “Dawgs” fan. To answer your question, I go the the education of the electorate part of the equation. That is the key. You will always have the “I don’t want my taxes to go up, even to save my Mother..” crowd. They are very vocal and very visible. But not really any more here than in Charlotte, or Florida, or surprizingly enough, even in California. However, it is Charlotte that I am most familier with. You should read the blog “The Naked City” by Mary Newsome, for the “Charlotte Observer”, and read the vicious responses, that she gets when she talks pro-transit. But at the same time, in 2007, when the transit critics managed to make enough noise to get a referendum on the ballot that if passed, would have repealed a one-cent transit sales tax at the very point when their new light-rail line was to debut. The Mayor, and the local business community got involved, and instituted a large media campaigne to educate the electorate and when the referendum votes were counted, the repeal measure failed 71% to 29%. Yet, you read their blog responses, they still try to say, even on the “Saporta Report” that transit is unpopular, no one uses it.. (wrong..), and that it was shoved down the Charlottean’s throats.
    The key ACC, is that the Atlanta Metro Chamber, ARC, and the various area TIBs, along with their counterparts in the other urbanized areas of the state, Augusta, Macon, Albany, Savannah, need to coordinate and pool their resources into a statewide effort to sell this to the citizens of Georgia. That is precisely how California sold their High Speed Rail program, to the public at a time when they were as they are now, in far worse financial shape than we ever thought of. I’ll leave the option open that I could be naive about this, but this has to happen! The Group Georgian’s for Passenger Rail (see Maria’s column from last week)carries a very knowledgable and influencial Board of Directors. I believe that the right leaders are in place on the advocacy and influence level. The leaders under the Georgia Dome are starting to feel the heat from last week’s news from USDOT. Call me crazy, but I’m starting to feel a little positive about this issue. We’ve been working on this for a long time.
    BTW, We are not totally against any more roads. What we want is a balanced approach to transport allocation, but if you will excuse us, transit and trains have alot of catching up to do.Report

  12. ACC 12 Booster February 16, 2010 6:04 pm

    Mason Hicks: I’m somewhat very cautiously starting to feel maybe a little more positive about this issue as well. I’m not just for road improvements, I’m for a multimodal approach for transportation investments because I think that Georgia very much needs “The Works” when it comes to infrastructure investment. By “The Works” I mean that Georgia needs to invest in not just a new road here or just a new transit line there, but everything from commuter rail to light rail to high-speed passenger rail and high-speed freight rail (most critical to connect Atlanta with the international port at Savannah on the Atlantic Ocean and establish the city as a Trans-Atlantic industrial center) to heavy rail to streetcars and cable cars to express buses, bus rapid transit and local bus service to bike lanes to new toll roads to EFFECTIVE tolled lanes, not the band-aid on an amputation approach that they’re trying on I-85.

    Most importantly, this state needs the leadership to impart why we should invest in critically important infrastructure advances, leadership that the state is clearly lacking now.Report

  13. Mason Hicks February 17, 2010 1:12 am

    However, what are you referring to with high speed frieght rail? I have heard of mag-lev technology being possibly used for this if you,re talking about a limited run between perhaps a terminal in Savannah, and a matching intermodal terminal somewhere in the Metro area. I don’t wish to change the subject of Maria’s blog, but you’ve referred to this several times, and other than what I’ve just mentioned, I’ve neither heard nor read anything more about it.
    BTW: Since I mentioned mag-lev technology: Mag-lev for a high speed passenger network is a very bad idea!, but that’s another discussion.Report

  14. Yr1215 February 17, 2010 12:02 pm

    I don’t understand why people keep laying the blame for MARTA’s problems at the feet of the state. I support MARTA, but it is apparent they have operated beyond their means for decades. This is because in a non-profit operation, decisions are not made based on economics or long term sustainability, but because of some political influence to add a new bus line, necessary or not.

    Let’s be clear on the facts, as much as one may love or hate MARTAL: IT IS NOT THE STATE’S FAULT THAT MARTA HAS SIGNIFICANT FINANCIAL PROBLEMS. It is their own failure to plan appropriately, invest their funds appropriately, manage revenue appropriately, and conserve financial resources for a rainy day that puts them in their current position. Let them fix their own problems.Report

  15. BPJ February 17, 2010 3:41 pm

    Yr1215, if you were correct, then there would be no well-run transit system anywhere in the world; they’re ALL nonprofits. But anyone who has traveled a bit knows that there are superb transit systems in many cities. None of them are for-profit businesses.

    All of these systems are subsidized by taxes (as are roads, which do NOT “pay for themselves” through fuel taxes; general revenue subsidizes them). The difference with MARTA is that: (a) it alone does not receive any state support, and (b) MARTA is restricted by state law from using its revenue from Fulton & DeKalb sales taxes as it would like. The outdated state law, which requires MARTA to split such revenues 50/50 between operations and capital projects, made sense in 1970, when MARTA was embarking on the construction of a rail system. Such a straitjacket makes no sense now. Governor Perdue deserves some credit for agreeing to suspend the outdated 50/50 rule.Report

  16. ACC 12 Booster February 17, 2010 3:52 pm

    Mason Hicks: Obviously the planning for a high-speed freight rail connection between Metro Atlanta and the Port of Savannah is still in the “just-a-wish” stages of actual planning. I think that I’ve heard about the possible use of mag-lev technology in the proposed upgrading of this railway in past discussions, but no matter the exact technology there is a definite wish to upgrade to a high-speed route because of the increasing importance of the Port of Savannah as Atlanta’s sea route connection to the world. The biggest reason for business leaders, transportation planners and policy makers wanting to upgrade the rails to accomodate more freight between Atlanta and Savannah is because in the last decade the Port of Savannah has grown to become one of the busiest ports in the world (top-10 or 15), especially in imports (as high as top-five at times).

    Yr1215: A reason that people keep blaming the state for MARTA’s financial problems is both small-picture and big-picture. The small-picture is that MARTA is required by state law to keep 50% of their revenues set aside for investments in capital improvements such as possible expansion which just isn’t happening anytime soon. That 50% set aside is money that they can’t touch during a time when revenues from Fulton and DeKalb sales taxes and the fare box have fallen dramatically because of the bad economy (fewer people buying goods leads to less sales taxes while higher unemployment means fewer people using MARTA to go to jobs). Since the Nathaniel Ford debacle a few years ago, MARTA did actually, believe it or not, improve their budgeting and finance and had actually operated with a surplus for a couple of years (’07 and ’08) or so until the full effects of the current economic downturn got to them.

    The bigger-picture reason that everyone blames the state for MARTA’s financial problems is a little more complex, but has partly to do with how large Metro Atlanta has grown to become over the last decade or so. Metro Atlanta has grown to become the eighth-largest metro area on the continent with nearly six million people emcompassing somewhere between 28-30 counties in North Georgia, but MARTA, which after all of the explosive growth of the last 15 years still serves only two counties, Fulton and DeKalb, and is still the only service that Metro Atlanta and North Georgia has that is closest to a regional transportation authority, not counting GRTA, which only runs a few express buses at this point.

    Alot of the blame that the state takes for MARTA’s problems is actually just a symptom of a much larger problem with transportation and traffic that has been caused by Metro Atlanta growing so large that it now emcompasses hundreds of municipal governments. It’s a transportation problem that has become much larger than the City of Atlanta or even the five core urban counties or ten core urban/suburban counties can deal with alone at this point. The urban area has grown so large that help from the state is now needed to help it deal with its monumental traffic and transportation issues and the state has been almost anything but helpful over the last decade. The state of Georgia has shown almost no leadership or even at times remote interest in the transportation problems of its largest metro area while the population has mushroomed from three million to nearly six million.

    With that being said it looks pretty obvious at this point that the two-county MARTA as it is currently constituted is far from being the answer to this 30-plus county region’s transportation problems (not to mention the highly-dysfunctional Georgia Department of Transportation, but that is probably another conversation). The State of Georgia urgently needs to step up take on a leadership role in dealing with this problem by establishing a regional transportation authority that can and will fund, construct, operate and coordinate a comprehsive system of local buses, express buses, streetcars, light-rail trains, commuter-rail trains, high-speed rail trains, tolled-lanes and toll-roads that will serve not only as a tool to alleviate traffic and move people throughout North Georgia but also as a catalyst and tool for economic development for the Atlanta Region and the entire state of Georgia.

    People also need to understand that this investment in transportation isn’t necessarily going to be cheap, but that it is an absolutely necessary investment in this region’s and this state’s future and we need the leadership to help them be able to understand that. Those $1.75 and $2.00 fares on a system with very limited reach like MARTA just ain’t gonna cut it in the future. Construction and operation of so-called “freeways” are just about a thing of the past because there is virtually no more money left at either the federal and state levels to fund them so its looking like toll-roads and tolled-lanes are gonna be a way of life from here on out if we want any new roads to be built.

    Also looks like we’re gonna have to accept higher fares and maybe a sales tax of some sort if we going to be privy to the type of high level of transit service that a metro area of six million people should invest in and operate. Much-needed new high-quality infrastructure doesn’t build and operate itself for free. It takes money and that money has to come from somewhere whether its increased taxes, higher fares or tolls on lanes and highways and the days where we could use smoke and mirrors and pretend like it was free are forever “Gone With The Wind”.Report

  17. Scott February 17, 2010 10:07 pm

    You know whats sad…the structure you talk about was being set up…9 years ago…by Gov. Roy Barnes, which Sonny promptly gutted and dismantled. So pardon me if I assign a large part of the blame to him, because in my eyes he has been a failure in his job and to this state. Whats even sadder is that people of all political parties pretty much agree, at least on that issueReport

  18. a transit fan February 18, 2010 12:51 am

    The flashy lure cast by MARTA management, offering salvation in an unrestricted budget, bears a hook that can leave you bound on the catch line for the rest of your life.

    Are we considering a multiple year lull in expansion? Wait… let me rephrase that: are we happy with nearly 15 years passing by already with zero miles of rail added? I’m not.

    Desperate measures for desperate times? Stop it; MARTA has been seeking this “relief” for many years. That’s relief from the compounding challenge of draining the capital expense account for yet another year.

    Have you read an annual report from MARTA lately? And all the glossy pages on how this other half of all those pennies gets spend… the dog ate those yummy bits. The whole business leaves me feeling sick to my stomach.Report

  19. Mason Hicks February 18, 2010 5:33 am

    I sincerely do not mean to be dismissive, but a certain amount of “noise” is always generated by this issue, and yr1215’s is just another example. My preceding post, and those of others do more than adequately address his arguements, as if they were in fact arguments. I really do not have the time nor inclination to respond to such ranting any more than to again point out that the issue is quite clear; MARTA, unlike any other major transit carrier in the country is being charged with providing the transit core of a 30-odd county metro region, while its funding base is set to the confines of two counties. We are not talking about “loathes and fishes”. I will stop there. Yr1215, you are now free to continue with your noise.Report

  20. Yr1215 February 18, 2010 2:35 pm

    BPJ – no kidding MARTA is subsidized, to the tune of $300 million a year already. How much more do they need, is my question. When is enough subsidy enough?

    I’m not denying roads are subsidized as well. But if someone will please tell me the most subsidy they will ever need, I would be all ears. The reality is, there is no limit. They spend whatever they get, and sometimes poorly, instead of managing it reasonably.

    MARTA has improved drastically, but they’re going to have to learn how to manage a budget in a downturn, as everyone else is. No one should get a blank check.Report

  21. Yr1215 February 18, 2010 2:50 pm

    Amen to Post 19 by transit fan. MARTA gets tons of subsidy already. Please go do something decent with it instead of using “capital funds” for “repairs and maintenance”. Although at least the 50/50 requirement means they don’t underinvest in maintenance. Otherwise, the whole system will break down in about 15 years if they permanently remove the 50/50 requirement.

    MARTA is a disgrace, but an admittedly better disgrace than they used to be when they were an unholy disgrace.Report

  22. Yr1215 February 18, 2010 3:02 pm

    Here is the core of MARTA’s problem. It is a political organization instead of a business (profit) oriented one. Where lines are added, where they are removed, what frequencies are run, have not generally been based on reasonably sound “demand-based” decision making. Instead they are based on “need.” Unfortunately, that “model” leads to huge, bottomless, endless losses, because in theory, everyone “needs” (translation: wants) transit.

    If transit were only provided to the dense urban core areas, primarily inside I-285, rather than to every random location someone declares they need transit, then ridership would remain relatively flat or decline slightly (or increase if service frequencies are improved in core areas), costs would drastically decrease, and MARTA would stand a good chance of breaking even.

    They seem to be in some version of this natural recessionary process now, if they cut many of the duplicative, unneeded, and empty, bus lines.Report

  23. BPJ February 18, 2010 3:34 pm

    I’m not suggesting removing (permanently or temporarily) the requirement that some % of MARTA’s revenue go to capital costs. The proposal before the legislature (which I favor) bumps the numbers to 60/40 (operating/capital) for three years, which should get us through the recession and its lower sales tax revenue (not to mention lower ridership due to unemployment).

    The repeated suggestion that MARTA be run as a for profit business betrays an astounding ignorance of how every successful transit system is run. There is a difference between a proper respect for market forces (which I share) and a mindless worship of market forces as some kind of god which magically solves every problem. For profit businesses (including my small business) do many things well; but for profit businesses fail miserably at providing certain necessary things.Report

  24. StuckNMuckon400 February 18, 2010 4:09 pm

    Yr1215 really needs to pay attention. I can’t tell you how much subsidy a highway needs once its built as opposed to what is required to maintain a transit system, nor am I going to waste any time researching the issue for you since your question was completely outside the point of this column. The last figure I heard was that GA DOT spends about $90,000.00 each year on the maintenance of each directional lane-mile in the system, but I have no clue as to what that covers. I assume that applies only to expenses that can be directly attributed to t specific patch of highway but I have no way of knowing. The point that people have been trying to make is that if MARTA recieves $300,000.00 in subsidies, then unless you spend significant money in either Fulton or Dekalb Counties, then little, if any of that is coming from you. No other system in the country is asked to do so much with so very little. And to deny that MARTA is a system that serves the region, and not just Fulton and Dekalb Counties is simply wrong. Those GRTA, Gwinnett, Cobb, and until recently Clayton County buses rolling down the interstates; what happens to all those passengers when they get downtown? Also you should walk thru the parking decks at the outlying MARTA stations. You’ll find that most of license tags show counties other than Fulton or Dekalb.Report

  25. Yr1215 February 18, 2010 4:49 pm

    For 1, I ride MARTA trains often, if not all the time. Second, I live in Fulton and the city. So I pay the taxes that fund the system, and I have a right to expect they are well spent as a result. And they are not.

    So StuckNMuckon400, why don’t your start riding MARTA instead, and help MARTA solve their problem by providing more revenue? Or didn’t you know MARTA goes down 400 and buses serve north Fulton? Hmmmm……

    All I’m saying is $300 million is enough of a subsidy. Riders should contribute probably a larger share, and the whole operation should be right sized relative to their budget. I don’t expect them to make a profit, I only expect they should stop begging for more hand outs.Report

  26. Yr1215 February 18, 2010 6:16 pm

    Here’s some real data for people to chew on. It appears MARTA’s subsidies from the sales tax amount to about $1.70 per passenger trip. DART (Dallas is perhaps Atlanta’s best comparable) subsidizes their transit to the tune of $2.50 per passenger trip. This ignores some still significant differences between the two systems, but it is a much better starting point for a discussion than saying: “the state must fund MARTA!”. Because the logical response is, well, how much and a rational question is: why? (when it ostensibly serves primarily local resident needs – I don’t buy the argument that somehow everyone from outside Atlanta is using MARTA to the detriment of residents – point to some data rather than making things up).

    Looks to me like the tax should be increased by another 0.25% (+ or -), raise the fees a little, and be done with it. Residents pay the sales tax, but so do a ton of visitors, business people, and a long list of forgotten folks, I have no doubt. So if the state would permit us to increase our own tax, that would be the most logical response in my book, as sick as it already is. Then the balance should come from the users of the system, who are the biggest beneficiaries of its existence.Report

  27. ACC 12 Booster February 18, 2010 9:36 pm

    Yr1215: You’ve got a legitimate point about a system like MARTA increasing fares to more adequately financially self-support it’s own operations. I believe that a reasonable fare for a system like MARTA or a possible successor, provided it could continue to be run responsibly, would be probably $3.00 a trip during off-peak hours. Fares to use the system should be at around $4.00 one-way during morning and evening peak hours and you could also institute that same $4.00 one-way fare during late-night and overnight hours if you wanted to provide 24-hour service. You provide an all-day pass for $5.00 and you could give discounts to senior citizens, the handicapped and students or work with local universities to charge area students a one-time transportation fee to be included in their tuition and fees that would give them unlimited access to a larger-scale 24-hour transit system that is as yet to be developed.

    The Clayton County Commission when faced with a dramatic operating budget shortfall for C-Tran, decided to cut service altogether and hope that the also-exceptionally cash-strapped State of Georgia somehow picks up the slack for them. I’m pretty sure that those who ride, and are worse yet, almost totally dependent upon C-Tran to get around, would have willingly rather have paid a few cents more or even several cents more to keep their bus service so that they can get to work, school, etc rather than being stranded come April 1st. I’m also pretty sure that just about all C-Tran employees would have been supportive of a fare-hike of any kind if it meant keeping their jobs driving other people to theirs.

    Instead of using their brains and doing some deft political maneuvering (like asking Clayton County voters to consider a sales tax increase, actually asking the state for help or even pretending to ask the state for help and then raising fares because, “Golly, we asked the state, but they’re flat broke, too”) to at least keep the buses rolling for the time being, Clayton County just basically said “Screw it, we don’t wanna operate these buses anyway, let the state or somebody else do it”, but what else should I except from a county that’s as dysfunctional as Clayton? Not to mention, that Gov. Sonny Perdue didn’t even seem to be aware of what was going on with the bus service in Clayton (Shocker!). Total disconnect from what’s going on from all governing bodies involved that are supposed to be serving Georgia’s citizens. Totally appalling and kind of disturbing.Report

  28. Tired of the yammering February 19, 2010 8:08 am

    YR1215, you’ve lost all credibility criticizing MARTA subsidies while failing to acknowledge the enormous subsidies that support roads and highways all over the state. Frankly, you’re bringing nothing new to this conversation, just the same tired anti-transit talking points that have been repeated ad nauseum by Georgia’s transit obstructionists for decades.

    Their mantra is always the same: Build and maintain highways and roads all over the state, all on the backs of taxpayers, costs be damned. Not enough tax money lying around? No problem, we’ll just borrow from future generations, just so long as we can keep building roads, no questions asked.

    And then, those same asphalt addicted drivers, who enjoy their socialist, government-gifted, taxpayer subsidized roads, which are built and managed by one of the most corrupt, inefficient and horribly mismanaged entities in the history of mankind – the Georgia DOT – will demand that MARTA be run as a profitable business.

    Honestly, can’t you come up with something different, other than “Roads should be subsidized out the wazoo, no questions asked, but MARTA needs to turn a profit or be scrapped!” If the anti-transit activists can ever dispense with the double standards and hypocrisy, perhaps there would be room for discussion. Until then, you cannot be taken seriously.Report

  29. Sally Flocks February 19, 2010 8:47 am

    MARTA should quite providing free parking to people who drive to transit. Motorists who park at MARTA stations are currently being subsidized by taxpayers far more than those who walk to transit. People who can afford cars are also the ones who are least likely to be hurt by an increase in user fees.

    Also, to put transportation subsidies in perspective, purchasing the right of way for the recent 14th Street Bridge expansion cost taxpayers $106 million dollars. It also permanently removed prime real estate in Midtown from the City of Atlanta’s tax base. The large amount of land lost from the city’s tax base to accomodate expanding automobile traffic is just one more example of the tremendous financial burden Georgia’s auto-oriented transportation biases place on the region’s core city.Report

  30. Yr1215 February 19, 2010 11:12 am

    Tired of the yammering – quit trying to stoke a stupid debate. I already said roads are subsidized. Go home and get your facts straight.Report

  31. professional skeptic February 19, 2010 12:36 pm

    Yr1215, I’m going to have to agree with earlier posters about the apparent double standards you maintain regarding MARTA vs. roads. Here are some of your quotes, followed by my comments in parentheses:

    • “It is apparent they have operated beyond their means for decades.”

    (You claim to have read MARTA’s audit reports. Have you checked the most recent state audit report of the Georgia DOT? After you do, please get back to us about fiscal mismanagement.)

    • “This is because in a non-profit operation, decisions are not made based on economics or long term sustainability, but because of some political influence to add a new (4-lane highway), necessary or not.”

    (My substitution of “4-lane highway” for “bus line” in your quote speaks for itself. Again, you rant endlessly about the profitability of transit, yet fail to apply the same standard to our roads.)

    • “It is their own failure to plan appropriately, invest their funds appropriately, manage revenue appropriately, and conserve financial resources for a rainy day that puts them in their current position. Let them fix their own problems.”

    (I tell you what, Yr1215: Let’s you and me go to the Gold Dome after our legislators are done with their 2-week vacation, and tell them to quit shoveling endless amounts of taxpayer dollars at the DOT and Georgia’s road builders. Let ‘em fix their own problems!!!)

    • “If someone will please tell me the most subsidy they will ever need, I would be all ears. The reality is, there is no limit. They spend whatever they get, and sometimes poorly, instead of managing it reasonably.”

    (You claim this is true of MARTA but not of the Georgia DOT? Why the double standard?)

    • “They’re going to have to learn how to manage a budget in a downturn, as everyone else is. No one should get a blank check.”

    (No one? Oh, really? We’re in one of the biggest downturns in history, yet the Governor proposes issuing $300 Million in bonds annually in support of road construction, but not a dime for MARTA. Call me crazy, but it would be a heckuva lot easier for MARTA to manage its budget if it were lavished with even a fraction of the proceeds from this kind of borrowing bonanza.)

    • “I don’t expect them to make a profit, I only expect they should stop begging for more hand outs.”

    (The DOT and Georgia road builders deserve taxpayer support, but not MARTA? Let me remind you that MARTA has always without state support, or “handouts” as you put it. Why should roads get state support, but not MARTA?)

    • “If the state would permit us to increase our own tax, that would be the most logical response in my book.”

    (Finally, we’re on the same page. Metro Atlantans are forced to subsidize all manner of road-building boondoggles all over the state, but when we ask the state to reciprocate in support of MARTA, we’re told no. Not only that, but the rural legislators prohibit us from taxing ourselves to fund rail transit as we see fit. Where is the fairness in this?)Report

  32. Yr1215 February 19, 2010 1:43 pm

    professional skeptic – you’re insane. who would take the time to write such an inane, long, and devoid of content post?

    i can’t believe i’m taking the time to rebut you point by point.

    1. Fiscal mismanagement at GDOT doesn’t excuse MARTA. I never said GDOT was well run. You still don’t address the fact that MARTA is already massively subsidized, I have conceded that is fine, I would only like them to “break even” with the massive subsidy they have.

    2. I don’t care that all transit is subsidized. NO PROBLEM! Crike. It is the size of the subsidy that matters. Any transit analyst will tell you mass transit is the MOST subsidized form of transportation already. I still say OK. Fine, but stop piling on more subsidies.

    3. Fine by me. I believe in toll roads for all new road expansion, but not existing roads.

    4. Your analytical skills are really lacking here.

    5. No one has publicly declared what the $300mm in bonds are for yet. If you somehow know, please enlighten us.

    6. Roads get state support because the state gets the gas tax revenue idiot. I’m not saying it should all be used for roads, but that is why the state supports road building, because of the revenue source. You really are a moron.

    7. No argument here.

    Check into an institution please. Your blind love of mass transit (and disregard for its shortcomings, and your blind hate of road building) is as stupid as the blind love of road building that generally (but not entirely) goes on at GDOT and the legislature (among those on the R-side of the aisle primarily).

    Use your brain.Report

  33. Yr1215 February 19, 2010 2:32 pm

    Typo in second to last sentence. Replace “You’re” with “Your”. Blogs aren’t the best medium for correcting typos.Report

  34. professional skeptic February 19, 2010 4:10 pm

    Yr1215: I’ll forgive your blogging typo. Make tons of ’em myself. I’m a tax accountant, not an English professor.

    My concerns don’t revolve around blind love of anything, but rather the enormous, senseless, politically motivated inequity that has existed for decades between road building and transit funding in this state.

    Perhaps the newly proposed transit funding legislation will make a difference:


    Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll enjoy what I hope will be a sunny weekend, before I commit myself to the loony bin.Report

  35. professional skeptic February 19, 2010 4:28 pm

    By the way Yr1215: you should never think it’s a waste of time to clarify your points or to correct someone you believe has made an inaccurate statement, especially when the topic at hand is so important.

    From what I initially read, I believed you to be an anti-transit, roads-are-the-only-answer activist, and you clarified that for me.

    If we ever get too carried away or too far off point, I think Maria will step in and moderate.Report

  36. Yr1215 February 19, 2010 4:51 pm

    Skeptic, I believe you may have read my previous posts through your paradigm, or lens, that says one is only pro-roads (or pro-transit). I can be pro-transit and for sound fiscal management. They’re not contradictions.

    And in fact, I’m both pro-roads (toll roads anyway) and pro-transit. We need more trains, but not everyone is going to ride a train. Therefore, we probably need more roads, preferably of a toll nature (which provides funding for their construction as well as an incentive to get out of the car and take a train).

    What Georgia needs more than anything is some infrastructure investment of all types (and certainly heavily weighted to new train infrastructure). We’re getting our rears kicked by NC. What I’m not for is wasteful spending, whether on roads to nowhere, or empty buses. One would hope that’s a universal value, but in fact it is not.

    MARTA has long been designed to be “needs-based” rather than “market based” (ie to serve a market with sufficient demand) because it is a political rather than profit oriented organization. This is an inherent flaw, of sorts. I would probably prefer a public-private partnership in an ideal world. An organization that receives the subsidy, but operates on a loss minimization plan. In the reality in which we exist, this will never happen. So the recession and revenue reductions will hopefully help MARTA right-size their operations relative to their incoming revenue. Unless someone writes them a blank check.

    Enough – I need to go enjoy the weather as well.Report

  37. Maria Saporta February 19, 2010 5:57 pm

    My dear SaportaReport readers: What a fabulous discussion and conversation about transportation, transit and what we need to do to get our act together. In reading the evolution of these posts, it strikes me that there truly is a great amount of consensus among most of you. For the most part, y’all have given valid arguments for your different points of view, and most of the time, there has been a healthy exchange of ideas and information. The only times I have cringed has been when someone attacks someone else in a personal way, calling them names or being dismissive of what they’re saying. The readers of this site are mature and sophisticated enough to focus on the issues and present their/our best case for why we feel the way we do. I certainly could continue my arguments by saying that yes, all transportation modes are subsidized, so we as a community must decide which mode(s) help us become the city, region and state we want to be. Transportation investments, by necessity and design, are long term, so we can’t be thinking about what we need today, but what we will need 10 years, 20 years, 30 years from now. Also, trying to pit the city against the state (and vice versa) is ludicrous. The Atlanta region helps generate more than half of the state’s revenues, so of course the state should reinvest in our region. And then there are 120 transit agencies across the state that are all in need of support. It all comes back to the fact that we are facing a transit crisis, and we need to come up with ways to help us through this extremely difficult time. That said, thank you all for sharing your thoughts and helping make SaportaReport a true town hall of information, opinions and ideas. I truly believe our discussion can lead to finding sound solutions. You’re the best. MariaReport

  38. ACC 12 Booster February 19, 2010 9:22 pm

    Maria: Thanks for the compliments.

    Yr1215: I agree with your points about taking a balanced approach to investing in infrastructure improvement, like both railways and roadways, but weighted more in favor of railways. I also highly agree with your point that a mass transit agency, like MARTA, should be designed to be a little more “market-based” and appeal to a wider audience of riders rather than being designed to be only “needs-based” as a politically-motivated means of “last-resort” transportation for those who have no other option of getting around.

    I also agree with you that Georgia needs to start investing heavily in its infrastructure again as it is losing ground to places like Texas and especially North Carolina, and Florida. Almost all new highway construction in Texas these days is to build toll roads, because as you stated earlier, toll roads are capable of funding their own construction and operation. In addition to planning and investment in rail, the same about new road construction holds even truer for Florida as they have a toll road complex that probably more concentrated than anywhere else in the nation.

    I also agree with you and have seen rock solid proof that North Carolina is kicking our butt in infrastructure investment as NC has invested loyally in rail for years and continues to invest loyally in rail especially in the I-85/Piedmont Corridor and has been upgrading its interstate network and is looking to build toll roads in targeted areas in the future. In addition to investing heavily in road and rail infrastructure with an eye towards the future, North Carolina also invests very heavily in EDUCATION as the state has an excellent system of community colleges that is designed to feed into their exceptional network of public and private universities, but that’s a spirited discussion for another blog (any ideas Maria?). North Carolina’s heavy investment in infrastructure of all kinds, but especially roads, rails and most importantly, “book-learnin'” (education) poses a real threat to Georgia’s still kinda-elevated status as a supposedly leading Southeastern state.Report

  39. Yr1215 February 22, 2010 11:22 am

    Here’s some general data for train buffs. The “east coast” of the US has roughly the same population density as France. Of course, this is heavily weighted to the Northeast. But even the Southeastern coastal states sport a density of 198 people/sqm versus France’s 297 p/sqm. Of course neither come close to Germany’s 595 p/sqm.

    Just food for thought.Report

  40. ACC 12 Booster February 22, 2010 3:50 pm

    Yr1215: Keep-in-mind though that the number of 198 people-per-square mile is an average that is driven down because of a larger total land area to figure into for the Southeast than the Northeast states (the Southeastern states have more land area and, therefore, less density, than Northeast states), but most of the area’s (NC, SC, GA, FL) population is still concentrated in population centers mainly along I-85 in the Piedmont (Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro, Charlotte, Greenville-Spartanburg, Atlanta) and in a few key urban areas in Florida (Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa Bay Area, Miami), though not as densely or tightly packed as the I-95 Northeastern Corridor.Report

  41. Yr1215 February 22, 2010 5:18 pm

    ACC – yes, I understand. The Southeast doesn’t have the density or local transit infrastructure the northeast has, and the density that does exist is spread over a larger geographic region (increasing the transit costs). But there probably is enough density to support the beginning of a system. At minimum, you would hope the states would start acquiring the right of way (where new routes are needed) for future use while land is cheaper.

    Oh well.Report


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.