GRTA’s draft strategic plan envisions Xpress buses direct to airport, more service on major routes

By David Pendered

GRTA is completing a strategic plan that envisions Xpress bus service direct to Atlanta’s airport as part of an expansion of a transit service that has consistently received state funds for operations since the great recession.

GRTA started work on the plan in January 2014, months before state lawmakers began a series of public meetings last summer that resulted in the transportation funding bill now pending in the Senate.

GRTA bus

GRTA is completing a strategic plan that envisions direct service to Atlanta’s airport and expanded service in major commuter corridors. File/Credit: GRTA

Once the plan is finalized, GRTA would implement the expanded service as funding becomes available. That conversation is premature until a plan is established. The schedule calls for the board that oversees GRTA to accept or adopt the strategic plan this summer. This is the first comprehensive review of Xpress since it was started a decade ago.

Xpress service to the airport would be provided from 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, along routes serving four quadrants of metro Atlanta:

  • Cobb County, from Big Shanty;
  • Gwinnett County, from Sugarloaf Mills;
  • Newnan, to be determined;
  • Stockbridge, to be determined.

Direct service to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport hangs like low-lying fruit in any effort to increase Xpress ridership.

A survey of non-users of Xpress buses showed the airport is the place they most want to go. A telephone survey of 1,652 non-users revealed that 23 percent cited the airport as the most popular destination, followed by downtown Atlanta, 18 percent; Midtown, 13 percent; and north Fulton, 11 percent.

GRTA airport routes

Atlanta’s airport would be a destination for Xpress bus service from four quadrants of metro Atlanta in a strategic plan GRTA is completing. Credit: GRTA

Of note, the survey revealed little demand for Xpress service in three major employment centers: CDC/Emory University; Buckhead; and the commercial corridor spanning Marietta, Alpharetta, and Duluth. All three showed a lack of concentrated demand and roadway constraints. All but the northern arc have some level of transit now available.

Other major initiatives cited in the draft version of GRTA’s strategic plan include:

  • All-day service along I-75 and I-85 north of Atlanta, and I-20 east of Atlanta;
  • Expanded service to the employment centers of downtown Atlanta and Perimeter;
  • Additional capacity at park-and-ride facilities.

Job growth is a driving factor in the strategic plan. About 70,000 additional jobs are forecast by 2030 in four areas that already host traffic congestion:

  • Downtown Atlanta: ~ 19,000 additional jobs;
  • Midtown: ~ 18,000 additional jobs;
  • GRTA's draft strategic plan calls for all-day service in major corridors. Credit: GRTA

    GRTA’s draft strategic plan calls for all-day service in major corridors. Credit: GRTA

    Perimeter: ~17,000 additional jobs;

  • Airport: ~ 16,500 additional jobs.

All along, a central notion of GRTA’s potential expansion has been to get more bang from the bucks being spent to create managed lanes. Managed lanes have been a cornerstone of the state’s approach in metro Atlanta since about 2007, when the board that oversees the state Department of Transportation adopted the concept as policy.

Meanwhile, GRTA has received significant state funding to operate Xpress buses since the great recession. The state filled a gap created when local governments were not able to make scheduled payments because of their declining revenues.

Gov. Nathan Deal quietly inserted funding for GRTA’s Xpress bus service into the state budget in a way that facilitates ongoing funding. Previously, operating funds were considered on a stand-alone basis, in which lawmakers could more easily snip them out of the state budget.

Deal has again inserted operating funds for Xpress in his budget proposal. In the budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which begins July 1, Deal proposed providing GRTA with $8.1 million to operate Xpress bus service. The House reduced the amount by $800,000. The reduction is viewed as stemming from a desire to fund other programs, as opposed to a policy statement on Xpress bus service.

The Senate is now considering the budget proposal. GRTA has asked for the governor’s funding level to be reinstated.

Regardless of the outcome, the $8.1 million is not expected to cover operational expenses for a year. The Legislature would be asked to cover the shortfall in the mid-year budget to be adopted in early 2016. That’s what happened this year, regarding the projected shortfall in the budget that expires June 30.

 

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.

9 replies
  1. RobertGrunwald says:

    I can’t belive what i am hearing the State goverment  want to daily buses to the airport. Sombody pinch me  are serious  I work at campcreek live acworth . Don;t screw this up  in hart beat  that is for sure . i can live at seven  still be home  by 20 just wowReport

    Reply
  2. WTF says:

    Why would the state add buses to Atlanta’s existing traffic problems — instead of running the buses to the Airport, run them to the northmost MARTA stations, and flyers can ride from there. GRTA should integrate it with Breeze card so people could transfer to the train without paying a separate fare.Report

    Reply
  3. WTF says:

    Why would the state add buses to Atlanta’s existing traffic problems — instead of running the buses to the Airport, run them to the closest MARTA stations, and flyers can ride from there. GRTA should integrate it with Breeze card so people could transfer to the train without paying a separate fare.Report

    Reply
  4. Mondegreen says:

    @WTF Personally I ride MARTA trains to the airport, but I’m guessing that there are a couple of reasons – 1) the time cost of transferring from the bus and then waiting on the train (in addition to the initial time cost of waiting for the bus) and 2) fear of fellow riders, i.e. the standard Cobb/Gwinnett argument against MARTA.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?