Gov. Deal establishes Transit Governance Task Force

By Maria Saporta

Gov. Nathan Deal appears willing to wade into the rocky waters of transit governance in the Atlanta region.

The governor signed an executive order Wednesday to create the Transit Governance Task Force, which will be co-chaired by House Majority Caucus Chair Donna Sheldon (R-Dacula) and Senate Transportation Committee Chair Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga).

“The metro Atlanta region has a multitude of transit agencies that work independently of each other,” Deal said in a statement. “The study committee found that commuters, transit stakeholders and the general public would benefit from oversight, streamlining and coordination of the individual transit systems in the metro Atlanta region. This represents the next step in the process, where we move toward drafting legislation that can make a real difference.”

The other members of the Task Force will be: Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), Sen. Ron Ramsey (D-Decatur), Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta), Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain), Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-DeKalb), who chairs the MARTA Oversight Board, the mayors of the City of Atlanta, the City of Riverdale, the City of Johns Creek, and the county commission chairs of Gwinnett, Douglas and Rockdale counties.

The executive order states that the Task Force will take into account the findings of the Transit Governance Study Commission, which completed its work this summer. The Task Force will then help develop a legislative proposal to be introduced in the 2012 session of the General Assembly.

For more than a decade, there has been interest in metro Atlanta to have closer coordination and more unified governance among the various transit agencies.

By far, the largest transit agency in the region (carrying more than 90 percent of transit riders) is MARTA, which serves the City of Atlanta as well as Fulton and DeKalb counties.

During the administration of former Gov. Roy Barnes, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority was established (with every member appointed by the governor). GRTA has since started its own suburban express bus service known as XPress.

The other two transit agencies in the region are the Cobb County Transit system and the Gwinnett County bus system. Clayton County shut down its bus system in March, 2010.

Surprisingly, the governor did not include the chair of either Fulton or DeKalb counties — true transit counties, which could raise concern on fairness and equity.

A big question also will be the role of the state in any governance entity. Remember, the state’s financial contribution towards transit in the region is virtually non-existent.

If the Task Force’s legislation gives the state control of the transit agency without adequate, proportional representation from existing transit entities that have been investing in mass transportation systems for decades, it could create extremely hard feelings between urban Atlanta and the state.

Unfortunately, the governor did not take into account the hard work that the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Transit Implementation Board have done for the past five years to come up with a governance solution that rewards jurisdictions that actually have invested in transit — a pay to play formula.

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.

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