Gov. Deal’s Transit Task Force shows it intends to create a regional governance entity

By David Pendered

Gov. Nathan Deal’s task force to reform transit governance seems to be serious about getting something done.

The panel met in public for the first time Tuesday. One bi-partisan message that emerged clearly is that the committee intends to comply with Deal’s order that legislation establishing an entity to oversee regional transit in metro Atlanta be presented to the state Legislature in January.

Another clear message also emerged, this one delivered to transit operators – tell us what you want now; don’t wait until after we’ve written a bill and then tell us how to tweak it to suit.

“We are very serious about having a bill ready to go in January,” said Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta). “I don’t want to hear from [an organization] that you didn’t think about this, or think about that. I’d rather hear from you upfront.”

“It would be helpful to know what your utopia would be,” Sen. Ronald Ramsey (D-South DeKalb/Rockdale) told another transit provided. “We ask that you get that to us as quickly as possible.”

Lindsey pressed hard on the proposition that GRTA assume the role of chief transit provider. Deal’s executive order, which formed the committee, ordered the committee to designate “a state agency or authority with the responsibilities of oversight and coordination of transit services in the metro Atlanta region.”

Edward Lindsey, Richard Oden

State Rep. Edward Lindsey (right) and Rockdale Chairman and CEO Richard Oden peppered transit providers with questions at the first public hearing of the Task Force on Transit Governance. Credit: David Pendered

GRTA Executive Director Jannine Miller responded to Lindsey’s pointed questions:

  • Lindsey: Does GRTA have authority to seek federal funds”
  • Miller: Yes. GRTA now received Federal Transit Administration funding to operate Xpress bus service.
  • Lindsey: Are there any statutory changes required for GRTA to assume the role of that regional agency.
  • Miller: “We have the authority. We may not have the mantle.”

Earlier in the meeting, a panel of transit managers from Cobb and Gwinnett counties, and Douglasville, fielded questions that ended with Lindsey asking them about the idea of GRTA becoming the region’s transit administrator.

All generally agreed that GRTA could perform that task. Each also said the regional agency had to be structured in such a way that local officials were able to shape service to suit their hometown constituents.

“There’s no ‘One Size Fits All’ approach,” said Randy Hulsey, of the Douglasville Van Pool. “When you look at the governance process, and how funding priorities come about, look at the big-ticket items and the smaller pieces, too.”

MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott was the first to address the committee. Scott’s comments framed the conversation by providing virtual bullet points that resonated throughout the conversation that lasted just over four hours.

Scott’s points included:

  • Metro Atlanta is not a blank slate that a new transit agency can draw upon without regards to systems, routes and infrastructure that already serve hundreds of thousands of riders each day;
  • MARTA is a Tier No. 1 on the security roster of the Department of Homeland Security, because it connects to entities such as the airport and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This rank will affect all things transit that touch MARTA.
  • Public complaints about the tolls charged for the HOT lanes along I-85 indicate that transit pricing must be in line with what people are willing to pay.
  • Whatever governance system is created should put the customers first.

 

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.

6 replies
  1. RegionalTransitSupporter says:

    GRTA was created to be a regional transportation planning coordinating agency between state, local and regional agencies not an operator. MARTA was created to be an operator. It is inefficient to have Gwinnett and Cobb operating transit agencies with administrative costs and time spent coordinating with MARTA. Adding transit to Clayton adds to the inefficiencies. MARTA was meant to be the regional operator although politically this may be difficult today. To get the greatest efficiencies we need one regional transit agency and it might be best to create a new one combining all the various agencies under one umbrella for operations. System planning could be moved to the ARC and where finance operations would be located would have to be determined. The Chicago style plan that was proposed doesn’t seem to have any real cost savings. A new board to replace the MARTA board and the other agency boards would have to be created with representation from all the involved counties. Using the existing MARTA administration especially Beverly Scott with some tweaks and absorption of some other transit agency officials would be a good starting point.

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    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @RegionalTransitSupporter

      If the other eight or more counties outside of Fulton and DeKalb feel that they are giving up control of local affairs to the City of Atlanta then they will be ALOT less likely to cooperate in critically-needed regional transportation planning efforts.Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @RegionalTransitSupporter

      Using the existing MARTA administration as the regional operator not only is politically difficult but is also politically impossible as MARTA has such a horriffic reputation and is extremely unpopular outside of Fulton and DeKalb Counties.

      Suggesting that MARTA be the designated regional transit operator is a definite political non-starter in Cobb and Gwinnett Counties.

      In the current regional political environment, it is best to have Gwinnett, Cobb and Clayton continue to operate separate bus services that tie into the MARTA system or whatever local transit setup likely succeeds it in Fulton and DeKalb Counties while having the state oversee and coordinate (but not necessarily operate) the transit services and future commuter rail service to be in sync together so that the separate outlying counties don’t feel as if they are being asked to give up control over local affairs to the City of Atlanta.Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @RegionalTransitSupporter

      If the other eight or more counties outside of Fulton and DeKalb feel that they are giving up control of local affairs to the City of Atlanta then they will be ALOT less likely to cooperate in critically-needed regional transportation planning efforts.Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @RegionalTransitSupporter

      Even if MARTA continues to serve primarily only the counties of Fulton and DeKalb, it will sooner rather than later need to be overhauled into an agency with a different name, color scheme, administrative setup and IMAGE so as to have more credibility with the rest of the Atlanta Region outside of Fulton and DeKalb, credibility that MARTA currently does not have with citizens in those outlying counties.

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    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @RegionalTransitSupporter

      The agency that is currently MARTA will need to have credibility with outlying counties so that those counties will want to tie in their local transit services into it as MARTA or any successor agency cannot be perceived in the slightest possible way by those outlying counties as spreading the urban ills of inner city Atlanta or MARTA will be roundly rejected by citizens in those counties.Report

      Reply

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