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House Speaker David Ralston values MARTA’s regional role

By Maria Saporta

After giving a speech to the Atlanta Rotary Club on Monday, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said he appreciates the role that MARTA plays in the region and the rest of the state.

“MARTA is an important part of our transportation future,” Ralston said in response to a question about how the state’s largest transit agency will be impacted by House Bill 277.

Ralston said MARTA ended up faring better in the bill than some earlier versions.

“We had to strike a very delicate balance between all the people,” the speaker said, adding that restricting the new sales tax being used on MARTA’s existing operations was based on the agency’s financial operating shortfall. “I want to give MARTA a chance to revamp its organization.”

Ralston said much will depend on how the new governance structure of MARTA will proceed. Under HB 277, MARTA’s board is being reconstituted. Also, there are discussions underway about possibly consolidating the various transit agencies in the Atlanta region into a new organization.

“I’m anxious to see what happens with the governance,” Ralston said. “I’m not signed off on any idea (about creating a new regional transit agency) at this point.”

But Ralston then made a point to express his personal feelings about MARTA.

“MARTA is important to me, and it’s important to the future, not only of the region, but to the future of the entire state.”

Ralston then was asked who he was planning to appoint to chair the House MARTA Oversight Committee (MARTOC). That position has been held by Rep. Jill Chambers (R-DeKalb), who lost re-election.

Chambers had used that position to continually investigate the transit agency’s operations although the state does not provide any regular funding for MARTA — the largest transit agency in the country to not receive annual operating support from its home state.

“I don’t know,” Ralston said about Chambers’ successor over MARTOC. “And if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you.”

Saying there’s been a great amount of interest on that particular position, Ralston said: “We will actually be making those announcements in the first week of the session.”

During his Rotary speech, Ralston talked about how important it was to him that a transportation funding bill pass during the 2010 General Assembly after two or three years of having “let the people of Georgia down” on that issue.

“I made a commitment early in the session that I was not going home until we passed that bill,” Ralston said, adding that by the 38th day of the session he began to get worried. But the bill advanced the following day. “We put together a coalition that the likes of which this state has never seen before.”

Maria Saporta

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.



  1. Mason Hicks November 30, 2010 4:24 pm

    I know we are probably going to see it again here, The typical overplayed accusations of MARTA being an ineffectual money pit, and (Oh, and how is it worded?…) “a social works (jobs) program”; or something of that nature…
    So let me just start my part of this discussion with the following reiteration: In the general opinion of transit industry professionals, and their various member organizations, MARTA is one of the more well managed transit agencies in the US. In fact, according to Federal Transit Administration statistics, MARTA’s cost per bus-mile is less than any other US transit agency with the exception of the Valley Metro, in Phoenix. That of course, includes all local Metro Atlanta transit agencies, CCT, Gwinnett County Transit, and even GRTA. MARTA’s financial woes stem from not only recessionary conditions, which are similarly affecting almost every other major transit agency in the US; but it is also due to the fact that MARTA has had structurally weak financial footing from it’s very naissance. No other transit agency in the country is asked to do so much, with so little…
    So; to my point: I was truly gratified to hear House Speaker Ralston acknowledge MARTA’s value, not only to Atlanta; but also to the region and the state… Believe me; this does sound so much better than having a leading elected representative sounding off about his being “closer to Disney World, than he is to a MARTA train…” However, when Ralston states his justification for leaving MARTA out of any future revenue resulting from the eventual passage of an HB277-based referenda with the idea that he wants “to give MARTA a chance to revamp its organization…”, I have to ask what he is talking about.” Revamp what? And why? As I noted above, aside from the popular dime-a-dozen rants, those that can back up their ideas with verifiable facts justifiably consider MARTA to be a well run transit agency. He states that this necessity to revamp is due to MARTA’s recent financial shortcomings, which in fact, are not grossly out-of-line with what transit agencies all over the country have experienced due to the nationwide epidemic of tanking sales-tax revenue, resulting from the worst recession of our generation. This is despite the fact that MARTA is the only major transit agency that doesn’t receive consistent financial operating support from the state within which it operates.
    What really needs to be revamped is MARTA’s funding support formula. At the very least, MARTA needs consistent funding from beyond the borders of Fulton and DeKalb Counties which is commensurate with the legitimate benefit that MARTA’s existence offers to the economies of the outlying areas. Also, the State Constitution needs to be amended to correct the flawed language that expressly prohibits motor fuel tax revenue from being used for transportation alternatives, Motorist benefit from the existence of enhanced transit choices, even if they choose to remain in their car.Report

  2. Amend the State Constitution to spend motor fuel tax revenue on “transportation alternatives”? None of the political “leadership” under the Gold Dome would dare publicly utter such a suggestion if they want to continue their political careers in a very conservative state that becomes increasingly more so by the day. Heck, the current gas tax doesn’t even adequately cover roads, so redirecting any of it to “transit”, which is for all intents and purposes pretty much a dirty word with negative connotations outside of the five-county metro core, or raising it to cover more roads and fund transit is something that you may never really see at the state level especially in the current Tea Party-driven political climate where politicians of both parties, but especially Republican politicians who are being held accountable to right-of-center smaller government principles, are expected to reduce government involvement in mnay aspects of society, reduce tax burdens and downsize government expenditures.

    MARTA could help itself out, a little (emphasis on “little” since recessionary conditions have tanked revenues across-the-board),in the current increasingly anti-tax climate by raising its own fares to a level that would help the agency offer the type of service that the community expects from it instead of waiting for financial help from the state, which isn’t coming anytime soon and may just be the political equivalent of waiting for pigs to fly. Transit fares are much higher in other major North American cities ($3.00 in Toronto, $4.60 in Washington D.C., $36-a-week in Chicago, etc) and help their respective systems provide a much higher level of service in helping provide alternatives to having to always drive on crowded roads.

    The hard reality is that gas tax and sales tax increases are not just toxic, but radioactive at the state level in Georgia, an increasingly conservative “red state” with a strong libertarian streak. No matter how bad congestion gets in Metro Atlanta, gas and sales tax increases will never be a politically viable option in state politics which means that other creative means of funding will have to be found if critical across-the-board infrastructural improvements for water (new reservoirs) and transportation (road improvements, new bus and rail lines, etc) facilities in the form of bonds, tolls on roads and transit fare increases.Report


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