By David Pendered

Georgia has quietly gotten into the business of subsidizing regional bus service in metro Atlanta.

Source: Governor's Budget Report, FY 2015; Credit: David Pendered
Source: Governor’s Budget Report, FY 2015; Credit: David Pendered
Source: Governor’s Budget Report, FY 2015; Credit: David Pendered

Gov. Nathan Deal and state lawmakers have made barely a peep this year about providing about the $8.2 million that Deal recommended to pay for bus service provided by GRTA, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. This sum doesn’t quite cover a year’s worth of operations, and the legislature likely will fill the gap next year.

This transit funding is remarkable, if only for its history.

Just a year ago, Deal’s budget proposal made a point of emphasizing that its funding of GRTA bus service was a special affair. The governor’s budget proposal provided:

  • “$8,105,630 to offset the loss of federal and local funds in order to ensure the continuation of services for the metro Atlanta area.”

This year, Deal’s budget makes no such specific mention of GRTA funding.

Rather, the budget simply includes GRTA’s bus operating funds with no special comment. Here’s how GRTA funding is being handled this year:

GRTA’s funding appears in the budget of the Department of Community Affairs (to which GRTA is administratively attached); in the category of Growing Georgia; beneath programs including the Georgia Agricultural Exposition Authority and the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

The budget line reads:

  • “Payments to Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (FY 2015 recommendation): $11,252,839.”

This $11.2 million includes funding for Xpress bus service and GRTA’s other duties, which include overseeing reviews of proposed developments of regional impact in metro Atlanta, and rural health transport.

Another historical footnote: Just three years ago, GRTA was said to be on the verge of stopping its bus service for a lack of funding. Regional leaders huddled with the governor and/or his staff in 2011 and figured a way to provide $95 million in funding for GRTA’s Xpress bus operations through the proceeds of the proposed 1 percent transportation sales tax.

When voters rejected the tax referendum in July 2012, the buzz among transit planners was the GRTA would run out of money to Xpress. GRTA would have to mothball the fleet of buses in the second quarter of 2013.

Instead, the governor stepped in with funding that enabled buses to continue operating through June 30, 2013.

In a similar fashion, the governor also provided GRTA with enough money to keep the buses rolling through most of the 2014 fiscal year, which ends June 30. This year, there was no public hand-wringing over funding for Xpress bus service.

GRTA’s success certainly makes it easier to fund than if the service were troubled.

GRTA tracks rider complaints on a monthly basis, and the staff and board appear to pay attention to concerns about service and satisfaction.

GRTA also serves a significant number of riders – more than 2.2 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, according to Deal’s budget. The number of riders has remained constantly above 2 million a year, peaking at nearly 2.4 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012.

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...

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