By David Pendered
Metro Atlanta residents are likely to see three changes fairly soon if state lawmakers vote for a hybrid of the two transit bills pending at the Capitol: MARTA vehicles and property may be rebranded; a new 50-cent tax could be applied to each trip in cab, limo or shared ride; and there may be a push for a sales tax in South Cobb County to provide a train, trolley or dedicated bus line to the Braves ballpark and nearby destinations.
Of course, the intended outcome of the two pending transit governance proposals goes much further than these three notions. One bill is pending in the House and one is in the Senate. Any proposal that reaches Gov. Nathan Deal is likely to emerge from a conference committee, with members representing the House and Senate, and probably an unofficial advisor from the governor’s office.
For his part, Deal went on record as early as 2011in favor of a regional transit solution in metro Atlanta. Deal issued an executive order that created a task force of lawmakers and called on it to deliver proposed legislation by Jan. 23, 2012.
Fast forward to the current legislative session.
House Bill 930 states its purpose as no less grandiose than changing the single-car commuting patterns that created the patchwork of downtowns and suburbs so common among metro areas. Here’s the pertinent language from HB 930:
- “It is declared to be the purpose and intent of the General Assembly that:
- “An effective air quality control measure is to reduce the number of motor vehicles on the roadways through an increased use of transit vehicles;
- “Reducing the number of motor vehicles on the roadways in counties found to be in a nonattainment area is of great import and would aid in improvement of the air quality in such counties….”
HB 930 is more extensive than Senate Bill 386. The House bill aims for a statewide makeover of Georgia’s approach to transit. The Senate bill appears more tailored to address the transit needs of metro Atlanta, though it does include provisions for transit systems elsewhere in the state. Both envision creating an entity named ATL to oversee transit services.
Details of the three transit notions outlined above include the following provisions. References to state law can be viewed at the Official Code of Georgia Annotated:
MARTA buses, train cars and property are to be rebranded, according to HB 930:
- “On and after Jan. 1, 2019, the board shall utilize a logo and brand upon any newly acquired property of the authority which shall include the term ‘ATL’ as a prominent feature;
- “On and after Jan. 1, 2023, the board shall utilize a logo and brand upon any property of the authority which shall include the term ‘ATL’ as a prominent feature.”
- (Of note: MARTA in 2016 had considered replacing all its train cars by 2026, but evidently withdrew that plan and on Dec. 1, 2017 announced plans to award a $146.5 million contract to Kinkisharyo International LLC to restore rail cars.)
A 50-cent excise tax is to be applied to for-hire ground transport trip, which HB 930 defines as limousine carrier, ride share network service, taxi service and transportation referral service. Here are the provisions:
- “On and after Jan. 1, 2019, an excise tax in the amount of 50 cents shall be levied upon any for-hire ground transport trip. Such excise tax shall be paid by the for-hire ground transport service provider and due and payable in the same manner as would otherwise be required under Article 1 of Chapter 8 of this title.
- “It is the intention of the General Assembly, subject to appropriations, that the taxes collected pursuant to subsection (a) of this Code section shall be made available and used exclusively for transit and transit projects, as such terms are defined in Code Section 48-8-269.40, in the special districts which are within a nonattainment area.”
A potential transit line to SunTrust Park, where the Atlanta Braves compete, is contemplated in HB 930, though the park itself is not identified. The line also could serve other locations in the South Cobb Improvement District, which the bill defines in terms of voting districts in the Marietta, Smyrna and Vinings regions.
The type of system is defined only as “fixed guideway transit,” which the federal government defines as a system that operates along a dedicated path, whether it be rail, trolley or bus. Here are the provisions:
- “The board of commissioners of Cobb County may, upon passage of a resolution, approve a special service district to be known as the South Cobb County Transportation District. Such district shall be established as described in the plan attached to and made part of this Act…. Said district may provide for public transportation services and for the construction, maintenance, and operation of transportation projects to and from and within said district by the authority.”
Another provision of the bill addresses the type of transit that could be built. This provision eliminates a state law that requires transit funding votes to be conducted countywide, rather than in a special district such as the one contemplated:
- “Code Section 36-1-27 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to referendum approval required prior to expenditure of public funds for establishment of fixed guideway transit, is repealed in its entirety.”