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Report: ATL Streetcar fares cover 4.5 percent of cost, safety issues resolved, free of MARTA

Atlanta Streetcar, 11:16 The Atlanta Streetcar route is to cover 53 miles, with 22 miles in the Atlanta BeltLine, according to the city's Connect Atlanta Plan. File/Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

The Atlanta Streetcar has improved its safety and operations and is on track to sever its relation with MARTA and function solely as an entity of the city, even as passenger fares cover just 4.5 percent of expenses, according to Atlanta’s public works commissioner.

Atlanta Streetcar, 11:16

The Atlanta Streetcar program has resolved safety issues and is, ‘on the right path,’ according to Atlanta’s public works commissioner. File/Credit: David Pendered

All of the safety concerns raised in May 2016 by the Georgia Department of Transportation have been addressed, said Public Works Commissioner William Johnson. He made the remarks in a quarterly report presented Wednesday to the Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee.

The issues GDOT raised were so severe that GDOT said it would order the streetcar to cease operations in June 2016 unless the streetcar provided adequate plans to correct the situation.

“Less than a year later, we’re happy to report that all 66 corrective action plans have been accepted and an additional 20 were closed out, which basically means no further action is required now or in the future,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the streetcar has operated 90 consecutive days without an accident or injury.

“That’s a major accomplishment, a major milestone,” Johnson said.

Johnson said fares collected from riders cover about 4.5 percent of the cost of operations. He characterized that rate as, “not outside the norm,” for a start-up transit system.

William Johnson, atlanta public works commissioner

William Johnson

Johnson observed that steps to raise the collection rate include having streetcar employees and Atlanta police officers ensure that riders have proof that they paid to be aboard a streetcar. Johnson did not cite the penalty for riders caught without proof of a purchased fare.

Another effort to raise revenue is to make it easier to buy fares via an app that enables riders to buy fares on their mobile devices. About 1,800 apps have been downloaded since it was introduced late last year, Johnson said. Some $2,300 has been generated through sales via the app, he said.

Johnson said the streetcar is in the process of gaining authorization from the Federal Transit Administration to operate the system without oversight from MARTA.

The FTA will be inspecting and assessing the streetcar over the next several months, Johnson said.

“We’re all optimistic that we will be successful in getting their approval to move forward with that,” Johnson said, referring to the three partners that operate the system – the Atlanta Streetcar, MARTA, and a wing of Central Atlanta Progress, the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District.

The streetcar now has its own executive director, Marwan Al-Mukhtar. He arrived in October and brings more than 20 years experience in managing streetcars in Pittsburgh, Tucson and, most recently, Seattle, Johnson said.

Marwan Al-Mukhtar, atlanta streetcar

Marwan Al-Mukhtar

Another significant hire is Frank Chavez. Johnson said Chavez has more than 20 years of transit experience. Chavez serves as the streetcar’s compliance manager and came from MARTA, where he had administered contracts, according to his linkedin profile.

“We’re very pleased with the current state of operation,” Johnson said. “We feel that we have the right team to continue along this path.”

Johnson succeeded former Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza, who resigned late last year to take the same title in Austin, Tx.

Johnson was spared some of the pointed questions the committee posed to Mendoza over the years. Such as who manages the streetcar. In one meeting, Mendoza was boxed into saying that he, as the commissioner of an entire department, oversaw the daily operations of the streetcar.

Then again, Johnson had some positive news to report, or – perhaps – news presented with a cheerful outlook. And, Johnson opened his presentation with a lighthearted comment.

“I promise to be brief, no matter how long it takes,” Johnson said.

Johnson concluded his presentation:

  • “As of this report, I can truly say things are looking much better for the Atlanta streetcar. We still have a lot of work to do, but we definitely feel we are on the right path.”


David Pendered

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.


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  1. Mike L W March 2, 2017 7:58 pm

    Great! Now the streetcar is fully independent of Marta and has all the same overhead but for their one single route. What a massive waste of money. Congrats!Report

  2. Burroughston Broch March 2, 2017 11:23 pm

    Notice there are no figures on ridership other than only one rider of every 23 pays.
    But that doesn’t bother City employees because they are paid, regardless.Report

  3. Steve Wheeler March 3, 2017 8:59 am

    In a speech to the Sandy Springs Chamber of Commerce, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul pushed for more light rail in metro Atlanta after visiting Dallas to look at their transportation system: “They got problems, too. But they do have a regional light rail system that takes people where they want to go,” the mayor said of Dallas in his speech to hundreds at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North hotel.

    “So we’ve got to sell our partners on this large vision,” Paul said. “But I honestly believe if we don’t do something now…we are consigning the metropolitan Atlanta area…to second-rate status in the second half of the 21st century, and I am not willing to be responsible for that.”Report

  4. Paul McLennan March 3, 2017 9:04 am

    “The entire scheme is designed to suck as much taxpayer money out of civic treasuries as possible for these boutique streetcars while hanging those who depend on real public transit out to dry.” Amalgamated Transit Union International President Larry Hanley,


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