By David Pendered
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a comment from MARTA GM/CEO Keith Parker.
A surprisingly high proportion of Republicans in Gwinnett County support expanding MARTA in their county, the pollster who conducted the poll said Wednesday.
“Usually with public transportation issues, you find Democrats are for it and Republicans are against it,” said Ryan Steusloff, vice president of Washington-based Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research. “In Gwinnett, 48 percent of Republicans support it.”
Gwinnett has been solid GOP territory since 1980, when voters picked Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter. In 1984, lifelong Republican leader Lillian Webb became the first female, and first Republican, elected to chair the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners.
The poll was released last month, and it showed a majority of likely voters would agree to pay a 1 percent sales tax to get MARTA service in Gwinnett. The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce sponsored the poll in order to inform upcoming deliberations about promoting economic development and a transportation system to enable the growth.
Based on its findings, WPA encouraged Gwinnett’s leadership to support the expansion.
“With likely voters having a favorable image of MARTA and their dissatisfaction with public transportation in Gwinnett County, we recommend supporting the expansion,” is the first recommendation presented by WPA.
MARTA GM/CEO Keith Parker said Wednesday evening that MARTA is working hard to become the regional system its founders envisioned. That vision includes Cobb and Gwinnett counties, as well as Clayton County, where voters agreed last year to support the 1 percent MARTA tax and bring the transit system into Clayton.
“Through dedication and hard work, MARTA continues to fine-tune its operations as we strive to remove all legitimate barriers to partnering with the transit agency,” Parker said. “Our transformation plan is well underway and we are receiving promising results including balanced budgets and ridership gains. MARTA welcomes the opportunity to bring the region one step closer to the original transit vision that has yet to be fully realized.”
Steusloff said Wednesday another little surprise was the reason that one in three respondents gave to explain their dissatisfaction with Gwinnett County Transit. Politics don’t seem to factor in the response.
“Among those who were dissatisfied, the general idea is that there’s not enough of it,” Steusloff said. “Not 100 percent. But we found a lot of responses that there’s not a lot of transportation [alternatives] in Gwinnett.”
The poll showed that 48 percent of those who rode GCT with daily or weekly are dissatisfied. The figures show 48 percent dissatisfaction among those who oppose the Tea Party; 44 percent dissatisfaction of liberals; 40 percent dissatisfaction of Democrats; and 39 percent dissatisfaction of those who are single.
The poll also showed 33 percent satisfaction among those with household incomes of $75,000 or higher; 33 percent satisfaction among those who ride GCT daily or weekly; 32 percent satisfaction among those who reside in Gwinnett County’s District 2, which is in southwest region and includes the Norcross-to-Lilburn area.
Similar sentiments regarding service levels appear among the poll respondents who have an unfavorable view of MARTA. Not all the criticism is aimed at the respondents’ impression of MARTA as unsafe and wasteful of its resources.
The poll includes these quotes as representative of dissatisfaction:
- “It’s not extensive as it should be. It should be in Gwinnett County.” – Liberal male, aged 18 years to 24 years.
- “Because it doesn’t go enough places or seem safe enough.” – Conservative female, aged 25 years to 34 years.
Gwinnett County has a history of shying away from MARTA. Like voters in Cobb and Clayton counties, Gwinnett voters rejected the original MARTA referendum that created the transit system. The county opted to start its own, independent, bus system.
At the time, the notion was to expand MARTA rail from MARTA’s Doraville Station toward Gwinnett Place shopping area. That service didn’t meet the needs of the many Gwinnett residents who commute to jobs in Technology Park, west of Norcross, from homes in eastern Gwinnett – the Lilburn and Snellville region.
Now, the crush of traffic congestion may be the catalyst that’s spurring voter support for joining the region’s largest transit system, Steusloff said.
“I know how terrifying it is to try to get any where in [metro] Atlanta,” Steusloff said.