Why Grady and not MARTA? Why have business and civic leaders saved Grady and not MARTA?

It’s a simple question.

Why hasn’t the business, political and civic leadership rallied to support MARTA in the same way it did to save Grady Hospital?

And it’s not just MARTA. It’s C-TRAN. It’s the Xpress buses. It’s Cobb Transit. And Gwinnett. In short, the region and the State of Georgia have failed to come up with a way to financially support transit.

As a result, C-TRAN is about to go out of business. And MARTA is facing a $120 million deficit in its next fiscal year — a deficit which will force the transit system to drastically reduce its operations beginning July 1.

A few years ago, Grady Hospital was in a similar precarious position.

The hospital was plagued with deficits, and there was talk the hospital could become insolvent and could close down, leaving thousands of poor and uninsured patients without adequate healthcare. If Grady had closed, it could have overwhelmed all the other hospitals in the region — placing an unsustainable burden on all of metro Atlanta.

A handful of key business leaders — especially Tom Bell and Pete Correll — decided Grady needed their help. They worked with the Metro Atlanta Chamber, creating a special Grady task force to focus the community’s attention on the issues and work on solutions to put Grady back on solid footing.

The community responded. The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation contributed $200 million to the cause. Other foundations and philanthropists joined in. Grady’s governance was transformed, a new hospital administrator was hired. And today, Grady is enjoying its own renaissance.

On Tuesday, March 23, Grady celebrated the opening of the Marcus Stroke Center of Excellence. All the players were there celebrating Grady’s successes. Philanthropist Bernie Marcus saw how his gift of $20 million had been invested to improve Grady.

MARTA, like Grady, is a regional asset that’s been supported by just two counties — Fulton and DeKalb. MARTA, like Grady, has had to carry the financial burden for a system that benefits the entire region and the state.

And yet, MARTA has been unable to garner the kind of community support that Grady has been able to enjoy in the past several years.

The Area Coalition for Transit Now (ACT Now) held a rally on Friday, March 26 on the plaza at MARTA’s Five Point Station showing that there is grassroots support for transit.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed set the stage.

“MARTA, and what it does for the city and the state, is fundamental and essential for what we want to be,” Reed said. “We have to have a world-class transit system. We are not joining here as adversaries to any one. MARTA is about jobs and making sure that people can get to their jobs.”

Reed said that one of the first acts that needed to occur was “removing the 50/50 handcuffs” that stipulates that MARTA must spend half of its sales tax revenue that it collects in the City of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties on capital improvements and the other half on operations.

Such a state-imposed restriction prevents MARTA from having the flexibility to spend its own money on its greatest needs. No other major transit system in the country is saddled with such a restriction.

“I also want to send a message to the economic development community and business people,” Reed said.

If budget cuts force MARTA to cut back service to six days a week, it will weaken metro Atlanta’s economy, especially tourism, and it will weaken the state’s attractiveness to business, he added.

“If Atlanta is going to remain dominant, if Atlanta is going to continue to be the economic engine that drives metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia, how are we going to do that with a train line that runs six days a week?” Reed asked.

Reed then expressed concern about what would happen to MARTA’s leadership if the State of Georgia and the greater Atlanta community fail to come up with solutions.

“I don’t want to lose Dr. Beverly Scott because she gets tired of fighting these folks,” Reed said of the general manager. “For the first time in a long time, MARTA has a leader of unquestioned integrity.”

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said, “today is judgment day” for metro Atlanta and the state. “We are a first class city. We are a first class region. And we deserve a first-class transit system,” he said.

DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May said MARTA’s financial problems can be attributed to a “lack of leadership” — particularly at the state.

“We need to tell the leaders — the Governor, the Lt.
Governor, the Speaker — we won’t stand for it one more day,” May said. “It’s unacceptable that people won’t be able to get to their jobs.”

Scott provided historical perspective. There was a time when Atlanta and MARTA were leaders in transit nationally. Three transit systems in the country received funding at the same time: Atlanta’s MARTA; San Francisco’s BART system; and Washington, D.C.’s METRO system.

“When you do a side-by-side comparison, we are at less than half of their systems,” Scott said, adding that BART and the METRO not only completed their original vision but now are expanding on it.

“What did we do? We got stuck on stupid,” Scott said. “Now is the time for us to move forward as a region and as a state working together.”

The crowd broke out into cheers several times during the rally. “MARTA Matters! MARTA Matters! MARTA Matters!”

For metro Atlanta’s economy, MARTA does matter. Atlanta never would have gotten the Olympics or the 1988 Democratic National Convention or two Super Bowls or a host of other major events were it not for MARTA.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber has made future transportation funding its top agenda item for the past several years, arguing that increasing congestion is making the region less attractive to economic development prospects and existing businesses.

And yet it has done little to address the needs of the biggest congestion fighter that metro Atlanta has — transit. MARTA alone handles nearly 500,000 transit trips a day. Imagine our highways or roads if those riders needed to find other ways to get around. Our region would come to a screeching halt, potentially paralyzing our economy.

And yet, at Friday’s ACT Now rally, not one key business leader was present.

Why haven’t business leaders rallied top community support behind MARTA the way they did Grady?

“I don’t think people really understand the degree of MARTA’s importance,” DeKalb’s May said. “You would have thought that the business community would have reason to support MARTA before Grady. It’s not a luxury that we have. It’s a necessity.”

When I asked Chairman Eaves the same “Why Grady but not MARTA” question, he said: “That’s a great question.”

Yes, everybody is talking about the need for transportation, but it hasn’t translated to support for MARTA and transit.

If MARTA is drastically reduced, “it’s businesses that are going to suffer,” Eaves acknowledged.

So why has there been a lack of support for MARTA and other transit services?

“I don’t have an answer,” Eaves said.

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.

35 replies
  1. Yr1215 says:

    I’ll give you two reasons.

    First, see the article. MARTA hasn’t changed some bus routes in 3 decades due to political and organizational inertia (or lack thereof). (http://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta/cheryl-king-former-head-412003.html)

    The budget cutting will actually help them rightsize their operations. That’s why I, and I suspect others, aren’t incredibly inclined to help.

    The second reason, while seemingly contradictory to what I just said, is that MARTA’s problems are structural, not managerial. While they have been slow to adapt, they have reasonably competent management. Whereas Grady needed new management that could right the ship, MARTA’s problems are permanent structural revenue-expense problems (and don’t go away) short of just doing what is necessary, ie downsizing service.

    It would take a billion dollars or more to fix their problems, an amount the non-profit sector isn’t likely to cough up. And the rest is in the legislature’s hand.

    In summary, comparing MARTA and Grady is like comparing apples and oranges.Report

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  2. Daniel says:

    MARTA has been unable to adapt because it doesn’t have support of local or state governments. The requirements set upon MARTA to act like a profit-maximizing business have only done harm to the system. Public services are not intended to be profitable in the sense that one would see profits through passenger usage, but rather business and government officials need to see and understand (which they obviously don’t) the profitability of the MARTA system to overall economic growth of the region.

    While you pose a great question, I doubt philanthropists will be coming forward any time soon to support MARTA. Rather, it will need to be local and state government officials who, by way of constituents speaking out, will come to grant MARTA the funding it needs to continue running, and make improvements necessary to make the system “world class”Report

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  3. juanita driggs says:

    It’s long past time to solicit the help of Reverend Joe Lowery, his protege Rev. Tim McDonald, Andy Young,and other key community leaders who have the respect of riders and policy makers alike to find a Grady-like solution before this thing crashes and burns. If you need a real life example of what can happen look no farther than Clayton County after this Thursday to see what happens after C-Tran goes away.Report

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  4. Dick Hodges says:

    Maria Saporta once again has put forth a splendid analysis of a potential tragedy for the future of Atlanta and the rest of Georgia. It was good to read the views of far-sighted political leaders with metro Atlanta constituents who recognize the importance of significant transit investments to continued economic and quality of life progress in the region. However, the failure of so many in state government to recognize that as Atlanta goes, so goes much of the rest of the state, remains a major disappointment to many. Equally disappointing is the apparent lack of involvement by many metro Atlanta “influentials” in business and the professions. Could it be that attachment to their automobiles and friendships with powerful highway interests are major factors? It might be worthwhile to remind beneficiaries of metro Atlanta’s progress about predecessors like Ivan Allen, Jr.,Andrew Young, Robert Woodruff, Maynard Jackson, Richard Rich and others, who took bold, visionary actions that were major factors in getting Atlanta in the big leagues of world cities.Report

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  5. Yr1215 says:

    MARTA is not going away. But it may be a little smaller and run a little less frequently. Hundreds of millions in annual tax revenues will ensure it doesn’t disappear like Ctran.

    The panic on this one is completely overdone.Report

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  6. Yr1215 says:

    Maria, you’ll also note, one of your own previous writers made the obvious point that 90% of MARTA users are Fulton-DeKalb people, although I will agree that “through-commuters” and suburban driving commuters do benefit from less road traffic.

    And Scott was correct, MARTA never completed its vision, due to some bad planning, poor foresight, and bad management (at the time) under previous governance. We’re paying for that bad management now. Perhaps that’s a lesson for the future.

    MARTA needs to shrink to the point that they have excess cash flow to invest in real capital expansion. If they can’t do that, we’ll just stay stuck in neutral. Rescue is not coming from the state or anyone else. They can solve the problem if the take the necessary steps.

    On another note, while we keep comparing ourselves to Charlotte (which I think is pathetic), it will be interesting to see the kinds of problems Charlotte has when they actually have a system the same size as ours…

    DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) is in some ways our best city comparable and it gets ALMOST NO STATE FUNDING (they get some toll revenue, less than 1% of total revenue). If I’m wrong, someone please point this out.

    To reference a poor analogy, like Michael Douglas in the movie Disclosure, MARTA should quit complaining about the problem, state funding, or mistreatment, and instead, GO SOLVE AND FIX THE PROBLEM with what they have.Report

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  7. cm says:

    I have an observation about the situation at MARTA compared to Grady. The point we have come to with Grady, has only been arrived at with a lot of kicking and screaming along the way. If community activists would have had their way, no changes capable of righting Grady would have ever been enacted and the whole place would have come crashing in on itself. The same type of radical changes would need to take place at MARTA but the kicking and screaming associated with that would be even more intense.

    I wonder how many “grassroots” people were at the ACT Now rally? 15? 20? Not really an indication of a groundswell of support in my mind. The true sense of support of MARTA should naturally be rider demand…i.e…increased ridership, counties clamoring for membership in the network, etc… We don’t see that because the value in the system is absent to drive people to want to be customers of MARTA…yes customers.

    I am a regular rider of MARTA and the experience, while functional, if not at all pleasant. Hand made signs in the stations, non-functioning escalators, office chairs sitting out on the platform of the Airport station, and the list goes on. We definitely need a radical makeover of MARTA; increased value to the consumer, new management, and a much improved rider experience. Then the system will truly be an asset to the region and have no problem supporting itself through increased ridership and within the halls of the state legislature.Report

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  8. Yr1215 says:

    cm, you’re on point. If you look at DART’s website, they call their consumers and taxpayers “investors”, because that is what they are. That mentality is still absent at MARTA. Taxpayers (subsidizers) and users need to be treated as investors, which suggests careful and intelligent husbandry of the money they have been given.

    MARTA has gotten better, but their political constituencies are still a problem. As you said, radical changes would cause an absurd uproar. Better to let the “economy” facilitate change, rather than endure a lot of brain vs. brick wall battles.Report

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  9. Tim says:

    Yr1215 – you suggest that DART is better run than MARTA, but looking at each budget comparatively says otherwise. DART expenses are almost identical to MARTAs, yet the latter serves more than 3 times the number of passengers. (4 times on rail alone!) MARTA receives half of what DART does from sales tax revenue, period.

    MARTA was crippled from the start when only Fulton and Dekalb signed on, and it’s beyond me why we can’t get the region to work together. We’re just polarized like the Detroit region.Report

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  10. Yr1215 says:

    I think they probably are better run, but not to a material degree (from a managerial quality standpoint). Expenses and passengers served are highly uncorrelated since transit tends to be mostly paid for by someone other than passengers. It would be great if expenses and passengers were correlated, which they will be when MARTA has to cut service (and passenger volumes will presumably drop some).

    The key point is, they have found a way to balance their budget without state funding. Ergo, state funding is not the answer to MARTA’s problems. Perhaps that means MARTA will only be able to serve 1/3 as many passengers, although I think that is highly unlikely.Report

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  11. bf says:

    MARTA needs the support of the community around it. MARTA was blocked expansion buy the counties around it because they felt crime would come. Even in areas within Atlanta like Emory that obviously need rail transit were blocked. It’s a shame that MARTA can’t even control it’s own money. Even if state funding isn’t the answer MARTA should get money since the state has a say so in how it is spent. MARTA probably needs to redo some routes to make it more stream line and that will have to be done but how can you expect a world class transit system for over 5 million in the metro area… heck even the 2 million just in ATL, Fulton, and Dekalb and only have the same 4 rail lines and 60 or 70 bus routes that are all running 30 minutes during rush hour?Report

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  12. Anna says:

    I wonder if there isn’t an underlying distain and distrust for MARTA management and structure that keeps Georgia leadership from supporting it as the public transit operator of choicefor metro-Atlanta?
    Is there either a concerted, or even unconscience, desire to see MARTA fail, or get to the brink of faiure, so that it can be completely overhauled? The discussion about how heavily unionized MARTA is now, has been a topic of ‘concern’ for many years. Are there those in this state who are intentionally withholding support to force a complete reorganization or failure (so GRTA takes over, perhaps)?Report

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  13. Yr1215 says:

    Anna – those preventing change are the MARTA unions themselves, and possibly management in place that is unwilling to battle the unions. MARTA is its own worst enemy in some ways. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure no one at MARTA has had a pay cut. There is no conspiracy going on.

    Everyone in my particular industry has had a pay cut or been laid off. Many people in Georgia have been laid off, with over 10% unemployment in Georgia. State teachers have had furloughs. And yet, MARTA hasn’t done anything to cut their labor costs. They simply want more revenue from the rest of us. Some people rightly say – enough.

    As far as “bf”‘s comments, yes, there has been a lot of discrimination in the past (and present) against MARTA. However, that does not directly impact MARTA’s finances. MARTA is not ever going out of business since they receive a 1% sales tax. If NO ONE rode MARTA, they would still be in business. (Although I sure wish MARTA would serve the Emory area – alas, political organizations such as MARTA can’t even do what is appropriate to grow their customer base appropriately.)

    Yes, Atlanta needs a world class transit system, but it doesn’t look like the one we have now, and it doesn’t need state funding, and it could probably be done with the existing revenue if enough rational changes are made operationally.

    There are a laundry list of solutions (some of which MARTA is implementing, some of which they’ll never do). Alternatively, MARTA “operations” could be privatized and de-unionized (but regulated by MARTA), and infrastructure and capital investments could still be managed by what is left of MARTA.Report

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  14. ACC 12 Booster says:

    Anna:
    “I wonder if there isn’t an underlying distain and distrust for MARTA management and structure that keeps Georgia leadership from supporting it as the public transit operator of choicefor metro-Atlanta?
    Is there either a concerted, or even unconscience, desire to see MARTA fail, or get to the brink of faiure, so that it can be completely overhauled? The discussion about how heavily unionized MARTA is now, has been a topic of ‘concern’ for many years. Are there those in this state who are intentionally withholding support to force a complete reorganization or failure (so GRTA takes over, perhaps)?”
    Comment by Anna — March 30, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    Anna, with the way that the state has approached the issue of transit support and funding over the years, particularly when it comes to MARTA, I could see how you could think that the state could be trying to get MARTA to fail overall, but I don’t think that’s completely the case. Though, part of your theory is right as State Representative Jill Chambers of Dunwoody seems to represent a certain faction of state government in the metro area that isn’t too fond of the existing MARTA agency and its structure and often makes political moves accordingly to seemingly work against MARTA in the statehouse.
    Overall, though, the main reasons that MARTA doesn’t get very much support from the state is stark cultural differences between the urban and rural factions that makeup the State Legislature and a lack of leadership at the state level to bring those factions together and guide them in an effective direction that will benefit both the Atlanta Region and the rest of state. The State of Georgia just doesn’t approach transportation management very competently right now (see the blatant and flaming incompetence and lack of direction that currently runs rampant at the roadbuilding-dominated Georgia Department of Transportation) as well a generally prevalent additude at the Statehouse that transit systems like MARTA are a wasteful urban transportation experiment for a few select liberal/left-wing intown elites and lower-class blacks in a “progressive” (a term that has recently been becoming more and more perverted to mean “communist”) city that is a “blue-dot” cultural aberration that won’t work well in a “red-state” that is as culturally conservative and as rural as Georgia where the use of single-occupant vehicles is considered to be as sacred and as All-American as apple pie and football. There are even some factions that consider rail transit to be a sinister left-wing plot designed by progressives to limit Americans’ mobility and transportation and living choices and push the country towards European-style socialism by forcing them to only have the options of driving really small fuel-efficient cars and live near and use transit lines like MARTA.

    Yr1215:
    “MARTA has gotten better, but their political constituencies are still a problem. As you said, radical changes would cause an absurd uproar. Better to let the “economy” facilitate change, rather than endure a lot of brain vs. brick wall battles.”
    Comment by Yr1215 — March 29, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

    Yr1215, I agree with your assessment of MARTA’s problems. Part of their problems with funding and management is that they are handcuffed by their political constituencies from making simple decisions that could likely help improve transit service for the entire region. The Washington Metro subway system uses a tiered-pricing system that lowers fares during off-peak hours and raises fares to as much as $4.00 one-way between the busiest stations during morning and afternoon rush-hour periods.

    If MARTA, as the agency is currently structured, were to make the crucial and necessary decision to raise fares to as much as was needed to provide a higher level of service to appeal to a broader swath of the commuting public (probably the $3.00-$4.50 range at the upper end of the scale at this point) the public outcry and outrage from certain special interest groups in the intown community would be the equivalent to an outcry of “bloody murder”. The outcry would be especially papable particularly from the homeless advocacy, which carries alot of political pull inside the City of Atlanta Proper and raises hell anytime MARTA even remotely mentions the possibility of raising fares to maintain or increase and expand service to the level of a Washington Metro or a Boston “T”. Combine the refusal of city left-leaning interest groups on the left to let the agency raise fares to maintain and increase service with the refusal from conservative factions at the state and regional levels on the right to even consider the prospect of letting the agency have the benefit of even minimal funding from the state or region and you have the current dwindling and increasing ineffective state of local transit systems like MARTA and the about-to-be-non-existant C-Tran.Report

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  15. ACC 12 Booster says:

    Maria:
    “Why Grady and not MARTA? Why have business and civic leaders saved Grady and not MARTA? Why hasn’t the business, political and civic leadership rallied to support MARTA in the same way it did to save Grady Hospital? So why has there been a lack of support for MARTA and other transit services?”

    Maria, getting back to the core of your original question, one reason that business and political leaders haven’t rallied to save MARTA in the same way that they rallied to save Grady is because even though the majority of patients that Grady serves are lower-income urban blacks, the perception is that there are critical emergency services that Grady provides that serves all races and all classes of people. Critical medical and emergency services like the state’s poison center, the ambulance service for the City of Atlanta and Fulton County, the internationally recognized teaching hospital and the largest publicly-funded infectious disease program in the Eastern United States, but ESPECIALLY the Level-I Trauma Center and the nationally acclaimed burn unit are life-and-death services that everyone at ALL LEVELS of society in the entire community, from homeless drug addicts who live under overpasses and on sidewalks on Lower Peachtree to prominent politicians and high-level executives who live in places such as Buckhead, North Fulton, etc., can’t do without and must have access to in a time of emergency.

    That influential policy-maker or high-level executive who wields tons of power in local politics and industry or well-known superstar athlete or popular celebrity who commutes in a new $100,000-plus vehicle to and from a multimillion-dollar home in Buckhead or North Fulton in the Golden Crescent has just as much of a chance of being in a tragic car accident and needing the life-saving services of the Level-I Trauma Center at Grady as the little-known low-wage single mother or day laborer who may commute in an older-model used car from a low-budget apartment complex off Old National, Cascade or Campbellton Road in South Fulton. The people who make the important decisions in politics and industry that affect the entire community understand that they need to have just as much access to the services that Grady provides as the working poor whom they may employ and even the homeless person out on the street whom they may drive by on the way to work.

    The decision-makers know that they personally would be affected by the disappearance of the critical services that the closing of a Grady would bring, which is something that not all of those same decision-makers don’t necessarily feel about the diminishing of MARTA or C-Tran service. Alot of those in prominent positions of influence in politics, business and industry don’t necessarily feel that their quality-of-life would be negatively affected or personally diminished if MARTA sharply reduces service or C-Tran ceases operations because they may feel that those transit entities may only serve low-wage menial workers or homeless people whom they may feel no kind of person connection to.

    It’s a problem of perception that transit agencies like MARTA and C-Tran face that they don’t provide a crucial service that is beneficial to the entire community. The big-time lawyer or business executive who regularly commutes from a gated community in the Golden Crescent to either an office at Cumberland, the Perimeter, Buckhead, Midtown, Downtown or even to a position of political prominence at the statehouse may not feel that their commute is personally affected if someone else from a low-rent apartment can’t catch a MARTA or a C-Tran bus to a minimum-wage job at the airport, etc. They may see lots of traffic everyday during their twice-daily commutes or even get stuck in frequent traffic jams on Highway 400 or I-285 resulting from catastrophic accidents in which the injured are transported to the Level-I Trauma Center or Burn Unit at Grady, but these decision-makers may not all necessarily see the impact on their personal lives and, by extension, on the quality-of-life of the entire community at-large if there is little-to-no transit service. I’m not saying that all decision-makers aren’t aware of the significant impact of loss of transit service because of the lack of visible impact on their own personal lives because as we’ve seen over the last few years, the local business community has been influential in keeping the issue of transportation and mobility at least on the minds of state legislators even if they haven’t been able to get any significant legislation out of it.

    Some of those in positions of leadership aren’t as willing to come to the aid of a MARTA or C-Tran because they perceive MARTA to be an incompetently-run agency unworthy of additionally private and public money to help with operations because of MARTA’s history of questionable management of funds and operations in addition to being strongly perceived as an agency that primarily serves only the intown poor and homeless. We may not see any of those same leaders come to the aid of C-Tran because of the perception of that agency service the poor in a county with a poorly-run local government that wants no responsibility for running a service that they see as attracting too many poor people to the same community that these same leaders are themselves poorly serving. Services such as MARTA and C-Tran just aren’t viewed by enough of the community as being critical enough assets to receive the kind of help that a Grady may get in its hour of critical need and dire straits.Report

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  16. Yr1215 says:

    “Some of those in positions of leadership aren’t as willing to come to the aid of a MARTA or C-Tran because they perceive MARTA to be an incompetently-run agency unworthy of additionally private and public money to help with operations because of MARTA’s history of questionable management of funds and operations in addition to being strongly perceived as an agency that primarily serves only the intown poor and homeless.”

    ACC12, wouldn’t you agree that Grady also had a reputation for incompetent management, and was a primary service provider to the poor? I also disagree with you in that I don’t believe that our metro leadership makes all decisions based on their personal risks or benefits.

    To try to answer Maria’s original question as well, I think the difference is Grady’s financial problems were fixable with the replacement of management and some short term funding. Ie, the problems could be fixed in a short time frame, reducing the cost and making it a fixable problem.

    I see MARTA’s financial problems as “structural” (ie, not fixable, long term problems) unless management elects to significantly downsize/streamline operations. In other words, the financial hole is too big, and too long term to undertake from the non-profit side, and replacing management wouldn’t solve the problem unless they could effect the changes that current management hasn’t made so far.

    For the record, I agree on all your points on pricing. They should have a flexible pricing schedule, at much higher but reasonable rates. And if they want to attract the mass market to transit with improved service and wider availability, they have to shift to dedicated transit (trains and dedicated bus), which will require them to downsize traditional bus operations (currently politically unpopular).

    Dedicated transit lines offer equal and sometimes faster door-to-door service, that regular buses can’t. The mass middle market won’t use buses, but they will use dedicated transit for this reason. A larger market provides more revenue at a higher price, funding future growth.Report

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  17. ACC 12 Booster says:

    Yr1215:
    “ACC12, wouldn’t you agree that Grady also had a reputation for incompetent management, and was a primary service provider to the poor?”

    Yr1215, I do agree with you on your point about Grady’s reputation for incompetent management as one of the conditions for help from state government and the business sector was for Grady to let the business community put actual business-minded leadership in place to help clean up the hospital’s books and push the institution into the black and at least TRY to make the hospital as profitable as was possible so that the doors could stay open.

    “I also disagree with you in that I don’t believe that our metro leadership makes all decisions based on their personal risks or benefits.”

    I didn’t say that our metro leadership makes ALL decisions based on their personal risks or benefits, but I was trying to make the point that our metro leadership does make many of their decisions based on personal experience. For example, if your a top-level corporate executive who commutes to work in a chauffeur-driven $300,000 Mercedes Benz Maybach, chances are that you may not be able to readily identify with a single mother who doesn’t even make $20,000 yearly and is dependent on MARTA to commute to and from work, school, the doctor, the grocery store, relatives’ homes, etc., daily unless you come a background where you’ve struggled in an urban environment or regularly rode public transportation in a city where it was much more cost-effective to do so, like New York, Washington, Chicago, etc.

    The same may hold true for a state legislator from Middle or South Georgia who may have grown up in a rural or semi-rural background where there very little, if any, type of public transit, not to mention there is no real peak-hour rush to speak of and a shortage of parking is a totally foreign concept. If you come from a background where many of the local commute by single-occupant pick-up truck around an heavily agricultural area (see the late Speaker Tom Murphy’s opposition to seat-belt laws for pick-up trucks in Georgia) then you may not be able to quite fathom why people in your area need to pay a few cents extra in taxes to send away to big bad far-away Atlanta so that a bunch of “damn yankee” transplants can not be stuck in traffic during a rush-hour of their own making, especially when they get all of the money for the schools and can seemingly take their pick of which high-paying job they would like to work at.

    Because of the trauma center, the burn unit and the negative impact on other hospitals in the metro area if it were to close, saving Grady was seen as a matter of life-and-death for people of all income levels across the community from filthy rich to dirt poor, despite the reputation for incompetent management and a perception of serving primarily the poor and the homeless. The perception of MARTA (and C-Tran) is that their service downgrades and discontinuance would only impact the poor and the homeless, as many of Clayton County’s misguided leaders are convinced that ending bus service would help to rid the county of the poor people that it doesn’t want living or relocating there.

    Another of MARTA’s problems has been a chilly relationship with the state legislature through the years, a problem that they have just recently started to rectify in the last year or so. They’ve still got a lot of work to do in that department as their failure to adequately lobby state lawmakers to get the type of legislation that could benefit their operations. Combine that with their unwillingness or inability to raise their fares to at least try to move towards providing additional resources to work with has helped to leave them and the state of transit in the metro area in the situation that we’re witnessing today.

    “For the record, I agree on all your points on pricing. They should have a flexible pricing schedule, at much higher but reasonable rates. And if they want to attract the mass market to transit with improved service and wider availability, they have to shift to dedicated transit (trains and dedicated bus), which will require them to downsize traditional bus operations (currently politically unpopular).”

    There’s no way that a transit agency like MARTA can hope to provide top-level service over a wide swath of the metro area at a mere $2.00-a-trip one-way, especially during peak hours. The type of exceptional service that the community at-large wants when you figure in frequency of train and bus service, geographical reach and security costs at least in the $3-$5 range in 2010 dollars (that’s $3.00-plus during off-peak hours and $4.00-plus during peak hours, late-night and overnight hours).

    “Dedicated transit lines offer equal and sometimes faster door-to-door service, that regular buses can’t. The mass middle market won’t use buses, but they will use dedicated transit for this reason. A larger market provides more revenue at a higher price, funding future growth.”

    I slightly disagree with the point that the mass middle market won’t use buses. If the system is perceived to overall be safe, clean, efficient and prompt then people of all income levels will want to use the buses as the buses can make a great compliment to the dedicated transit routes (heavy rail, light rail, street car, etc) along densely-populated corridors where dedicated transit lines may not be completely feasible. Just take a look at a system like Seattle, which for many years built and operated its entire mass transit system around the use of heavy bus service and bus rapid transit-type local and express service primarily with the aid of reversible and fixed High Occupancy Vehicle express lanes on Interstate 5 until the start of light rail service in South Seattle a few years ago.

    Though, expounding on your point on dedicated transit service, there are a few densely-populated heavily-urban corridors in Metro Atlanta where dedicated transit service would be completely feasible such as Georgia Hwy 9/Roswell Road from Buckhead and up through Sandy Springs, Piedmont Road-Cheshire Bridge Road-Buford Highway from Midtown to Doraville and of course, up Peachtree from Downtown to Brookhaven. While these corridors would be almost perfect for heavy streetcar or cable car service, other dense corridors like, for example, Scott Boulevard-Lawrenceville Highway through Central DeKalb and into Central Gwinnett and Memorial Drive-Stone Mountain Freeway-Stone Mountain Highway through South DeKalb and into South Gwinnett might be better fit for much-improved heavy local and express bus service.

    Sorry that I get a little long-winded sometimes, but transportation and mobility are two issues that I love to and feel compelled to address.Report

    Reply
  18. Yr1215 says:

    ACC12, I think you and I agree on the bus issue. When I refer to dedicated transit, I am also including BRT.

    When I state the mass market won’t use buses, I am only referring to buses without dedicated right of way, because buses without dedicated ROW offer no strategic advantage to a car unless they have a dedicated ROW.

    I personally think Buford highway is primed for either BRT (or dedicated ROW bus). You have 6 lanes much of the way, which would still provide 4 lanes for autos. Plus Buford hwy is primed for higher density redevelopment.

    One can dream. Short of a massive MARTA revamp, none of it is going to happen.Report

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  19. ACC 12 Booster says:

    Yr1215:
    “When I state the mass market won’t use buses, I am only referring to buses without dedicated right of way, because buses without dedicated ROW offer no strategic advantage to a car unless they have a dedicated ROW.”

    Yr 1215, I don’t disagree with your point on the advantages of buses using dedicated right of ways but not all bus lines could utilize a dedicated right of way like a bus rapid transit line. You would still need local bus lines, in some instances, to feed into and spur off from that bus rapid transit line, streetcar line, cable car line, etc. that would have to utilize local collector and or arterial streets. Like a local bus line that would have to spur off of a bus rapid transit line in a major corridor to connect to an industrial park, for example.

    “I personally think Buford highway is primed for either BRT (or dedicated ROW bus). You have 6 lanes much of the way, which would still provide 4 lanes for autos. Plus Buford hwy is primed for higher density redevelopment.”

    “One can dream. Short of a massive MARTA revamp, none of it is going to happen.”

    I disagree. The population of the Atlanta Region has grown from 2.9 million in 1990 to 5.8 million in 2009, meaning the population of the Atlanta Region has more than doubled in only 19 years. Even with the economic slowdown, I suspect that when the figures from the 2010 Census are released that the population for the Atlanta Region will come in just under six million.

    Even though results have been disappointing thus far with regards to the General Assembly’s actions and vision for transportation management, just the fact that the area has seen so much explosive population growth in a relatively very short period of time is forcing us all to have a very important conversation about how we approach critical issues like water, transportation and education. The great drought of 2006-2009 and the threat of being cut-off from Lake Lanier in 2012 have already forced the government and the residents of this state to look at water use and management in ways that would not have been imaginable on January 1, 2006. Who could have imagined on New Year’s Day 2006 that in a few short months that residents of North Georgia would face the undesirable prospect of basically having the ability to frequently water their lawns and wash their cars at home in their driveways being permanently taken away, two activities that many Georgians had never even thought about being harmful, especially if you grew up in this area that many always generally thought to be a water-rich region?

    Who could have thought that one day there would be six million people in the Atlanta area and that the state of Georgia would one day have 10 million people? I’ve seen some projections that predict that the population of the Atlanta Region could one day reach anywhere from 8-12 million people, which is a number that may still seem far-fetched to some. Though after seeing the Atlanta Region reach perilously close to the six-million mark, a mark that, up until a few years ago, many demographers and experts said the Atlanta Region wouldn’t reach until 2030, and struggle with water shortages, and a transportation infrastructure that was “designed” for a population of maybe 3.5 million, tops, growth to that 12 million mark doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

    The kind of crushing accelerating population growth that we’ve seen over the last two decades and the kind of continued crushing population growth that we’re likely to continue seeing in the years to come and all of the seeming booms and busts that come along with it will FORCE us all to deal those critical issues like water, transportation, education, etc because not only are they the big elephant in the room, they are the big angry elephant in room that will attack and stomp you down if you don’t deal with it. Even if the current session of the Georgia General Assembly fails to deal with transportation management and funding in a meaningful way, which is looking like that may again be the case, the transportation issue is not going anywhere, especially if we see anything close to the uptick or spike in economic activity that we’ve seen during the last three decades.

    Despite the economic downturn, people are still relocating to the Atlanta Region in relatively heady numbers as Gwinnett County alone added nearly 30,000 people last year to eclipse the 800,000 mark. If there is any meaningful upturn in economic activity, it won’t take much for Atlanta-area freeways to once again return to being the perennial peak-hour parking lots that we all came to know them to be between 1999 and 2007. Freeway? No, more like FREE RUSH-HOUR PARKING!

    Somewhat depending on the outcome of the gubernatorial election in November, I think that a revamp of MARTA and GRTA (and possibly the always lovable GDOT) could be alot closer than we all think at this point. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see GRTA take over some or all of the operations of MARTA, depending on how ambitious the new state leadership is to reform transportation in the Atlanta Region and North Georgia.Report

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  20. Scott says:

    Another thing to consider with the census is that metro Atlanta will gain a large number of seats in the General assembly. Some say 100 out of the 180 will be Metro ATL. Thats a sizable power shift away from rural Georgia, and believe me, they are aware of it too.Report

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  21. Yr1215 says:

    Scott – how the seats change and impact that has on Atlanta’s legislative power depends on exactly how redistricting plays out. If Republicans remain in charge, don’t hold out a lot of hope. You can gerrymander away a lot of power if you want.

    ACC12 – of course I agree on the feeder buses. Those will be necessary. But the balance between traditional bus transit versus what I will refer to TWDROW (transit with dedicated right of way – how’s that for a new acronym to add to the alphabet soup) is currently out of whack. Transit in Atlanta needs to lean much more heavily on TWDROW. But obviously there are a lot of roads that cannot accomodate TWDROW.

    I also agree (as this is obviously indisputable) that Atlanta’s population is continuing to grow and therefore transportation will not go away as an issue. However, transit makes the most sense in the somewhat broad definition of the urban core (what I’ll call primarily Atlanta and Dekalb plus sandy springs, Dunwoody, a bit of Southwest Gwinnett and the Galleria area). Population in this area has grown, but not very much on an absolute basis. I think GRTA taking over MARTA might be a very good thing, we’ll see. But someone, irrespective of all the other issues, has to make the wrenching changes. If that’s GRTA, great. I don’t see it happening under current MARTA management. I was primarily referring to the very short term. 5 to 10 years from now, I have no doubt things will change in some capacity.

    As a side topic, I wish the city of Atlanta would rework their zoning to try “capture” and anticipate as many of these new residents as possible in order to improve the density and thus transit feasibility of our city. That does not appear to be happening, primarily due to NPU opposition to growth and densification. I guess time will tell on all these issues.Report

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  22. ACC 12 Booster says:

    Yr 1215, I like your vision on what you call TWDROW (transit with dedicated right of way), TWDROW looks to be a transportation model that will be very beneficial to this region’s long-term future. Densely developed intown corridors (like GA9/Roswell Rd, Buford Hwy and especially Peachtree St/Rd on the Northside and maybe eventually Lee St and Metropolitan Pkwy on the Southside) and densely developed OTP town and neighborhood centers (like Norcross, Duluth, Lawrenceville, Suwanee, Smyrna, Marietta, etc) that feature either actual transit lines with dedicated ROW or are readily accessible to high-quality TWDROW lines will become very valuable high-demand, high-priced real estate areas.

    “As a side topic, I wish the city of Atlanta would rework their zoning to try “capture” and anticipate as many of these new residents as possible in order to improve the density and thus transit feasibility of our city. That does not appear to be happening, primarily due to NPU opposition to growth and densification. I guess time will tell on all these issues.”

    Actually, Yr1215, the City of Atlanta Proper had done as good of a job as can be expected, in their circumstances, in attempting to attract some of the new residents relocating in mass numbers to the region before the recent steep economic downtown. The city had made an effort to tear down many, if not nearly all, of the aging housing projects that had become breeding grounds for crime and concentration camps of extreme and abject poverty. Erstwhile war-zone complexes like Perry Homes, Techwood Homes and East Lake Homes are major examples of crime-ridden and violence-afflicted housing projects that were torn down and redeveloped as mixed-income communities meant to appear to a broader swath of the socioeconomic market spectrum.

    Intown areas close to the Atlanta University Center and Turner Field are also being selectively redeveloped to attract residents of all socioeconomic ranges. That’s not to mention the development of Atlantic Station on the industrial brownfield site of the erstwhile Atlantic Steel Factory which has helped serve as a conduit to continued gentrification, redevelopment and a renaissance, of sorts, of much of Intown Atlanta.

    Meanwhile, historical Intown areas on the Northside (above I-20) like Little Five Points, Inman Park, Virginia-Highland, Lenox-Morningside and trendy Northside Intown areas like Midtown and Buckhead continued to see an influx of young singles, gays, young professionals and those attracted to an urban lifestyle. The recent influx of new residents into the City of Atlanta Proper is beared out by a significant rise in population inside city limits from 394,000 in 1990 to an estimated 537,000 in 2008.

    Also, the redevelopment of some of the absolute worst low-income housing projects into mixed-income developments also helped to significantly bring down the violent crime rate of Atlanta Proper. Though there have been many high-profile crime incidents inside the city limits in the last couple of years or so and the crime rate has started to inch back up from it’s historical lows in the mid 00’s, the occurance and frequency of violent crime, especially homicides, is still markedly down from the frightening highs of the 1970’s and 80’s, though its clear that the city still has ALOT of work to do in the area of public safety.

    In terms of attracting new residents the city is heading in the right direction overall, but despite the city’s success at drawing new residents the fact still remains that the City of Atlanta is very small in size and area (152 square miles) in comparision to the Atlanta Region as a whole (nearly 9,000 or more square miles). There’s just physically alot more of the of the Atlanta Region to attract the attention of new residents then there is of the city of Atlanta. The way the numbers breakdown, the population of the City of Atlanta (537,000) makes up only about one-eleventh of the population of the entire Greater Atlanta Region of 5.8 million.

    Zoning adjustments can only go so far in helping to attract new residents, concerns about public safety, crime and the effectiveness and reputation of the local school system. Keep-in-mind that concerns about public safety and the reputation of the local schools alone will immediately give surburban and OTP areas like Forsyth, Cherokee, North Fulton, Gwinnett, Douglas and Cobb a leg up in attracting the vast majority of new residents, especially middle and working-class families with school-aged children. People without children like college students, young professionals, singles and GLBT might be more attracted to living intown in gentrified areas like Midtown, East Atlanta, etc and experiencing the adventurous urban lifestyle that may come with it while the a some of the “super-rich” with enough money to send their children to private schools like Westminister, Paideia, Woodruff Academy, etc might be attracted to living in exclusive ITP enclaves like Buckhead, etc.

    Roughly more than nine out of every ten times (or, based on the numbers, more than ten out of every eleven times) families with children will be attracted to areas OTP with an overall reputation for quality public schools and relatively low crime and there’s just not alot that the City of Atlanta’s “brain-trust” can do about that in the immediate short-term. Long-term the city’s best bet is to invest in the areas of public safety, those TWDROW corridors that you talk about to increase the value of the city’s real estate and education to enhance the reputation of the city’s public school system, but surburban OTP areas will most likely keep their sizable advantage in attracting families with children for the foreseeable future because of real and perceived reputations of better public safety, schools and lower cost-of-living (more house and more land for same or less money and lower taxes).Report

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  23. Yr1215 says:

    Yes, they probably are doing the best they can. But replacing low income housing with mixed income housing is not the same as increasing zoning densities.

    You are correct that there are a lot of necessary underpinnings to attracting residents (schools, crime, etc., as you state), but if we want to accommodate masses of new residents, we will have to upzone significant portions of our city.

    To wit, compare these densities:
    City/Density in people per square mile
    Atlanta: 4,018
    Boston: 12,813
    Washington DC: 9,776

    And let’s dispense with the comparisons about city size. I know Atlanta’s city proper is small, but larger than those cited. In town transit is primarily local. If you lump in Dekalb, you’ve pretty much got the in town story. The key point is, if you want self sustaining transit, you HAVE GOT TO HAVE DENSITY.

    If you look at these numbers, Atlanta needs to really double or even triple the residents in the city proper. Now how on earth is it going to do that. Is zoning in place for 700,000 to 1mm new residents? Not a chance. I admittedly ignore the fact you point out that a huge portion of these new residents will not have any interest in living in the city. But the city is certainly not doing its utmost to attract them, although it is doing a lot (better schools, Beltline, better crime enforcement). The city isn’t even close to being prepared to capture 1/10 of the amount required before transit works well.

    Its not as much of a problem in the current recession, because development has tailed off (we have gobs of condos and excess multifamily obviously). But in the next growth cycle, someone is going to have to fight the NPU’s that are against townhomes, new multifamily construction, etc. etc.Report

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  24. Yr1215 says:

    Just for the record, this must be the longest running comment section on this blog, especially for so few people. I think it goes a good 11 screens tall on my computer. I waive most of the responsibility for verbosity. 🙂Report

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  25. Yr1215 says:

    Here’s a bizarre notion.

    Were it not so detrimental to Atlanta’s tax base, and if I were temporary dictator, I would waive property taxes for 50 years for any developer (and the subsequent owners) who build any residential property (and perhaps commercial too) with an FAR over 20. The offer to sunset after 5 years.

    Now that would liven things up.Report

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  26. Yr1215 says:

    Maria, since a lot of your articles are about transit, why don’t you just create a permanent transit blog comment section to your website so that we (the transit nuts) can blather on about this endlessly?

    Call it The Atlanta Transit Forum, or some such thing.Report

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  27. ACC 12 Booster says:

    Yr1215, alot of that demand for potentially increased intown residential densities will come with the eventual development of those TWDROW corridors along major routes. Once a committment is made to develop those TWDROW corridors on routes like Peachtree, for example, Atlanta is primed for an unfathomable amount of domestic and, especially, foreign investment. Being the site of the Summer Olympics, combined with being home to the world’s busiest passenger airport has really helped to pole vault Atlanta to a level of the international consciousness that I’m not even sure many of the local political leaders are aware of.

    One of the cities that you used to compare against Atlanta’s density, Washington D.C., is already the number one market for foreign real estate and business investment in the United States because of the city’s status as the political capital of the free world. D.C.’s population growth, while being very heady, still hasn’t been as explosive as Atlanta’s population growth over the last decade. With Atlanta’s usually annual explosive population growth, an international community that is growing to be more and more dominant, and a position and location as one of the world’s great transportation nexuses, Atlanta could potentially leave D.C. in the dust in the amount of foreign real estate and business investment that it could attract if our political leaders ever decided to exercise the political will and leadership and vision to make substantial investments in transportation infrastructure.Report

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  28. ACC 12 Booster says:

    Yr1215:
    “Ok. It’s officially a conspiracy. Everyone in Atlanta, even those at CNN, are hooked on Charlotte’s new transit, ignoring 30 years of transit in Atlanta, and the planned (but admittedly speculative) addition of the Beltline.”

    “Arghhh…. oh well.”

    Nah, no conspiracy, Atlantans just seem to think Charlotte is on hot on their tails while everyone else just wants to be close to Charlotte’s big banks and their what-used-to-be multiple trillions, even in the midst of a severe economic slump caused in part by those banks!Report

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  29. Yr1215 says:

    Density and transit are a bit of a chicken and egg problem. They both serve each other, and one doesn’t work well without the other. If you build transit, that is great. But it doesn’t work without upzoning the surrounding area and providing development incentives to build the demand for the transit. Otherwise, the transit just becomes a moneypit (which is what China’s cross asia high speed rail will be for sure). Of course I love high speed rail (or moderate speed rail) where it makes sense.

    It’s crazy to think Hartsfield’s tram serves almost as many people every day as all of MARTA rail.Report

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  30. Mason Hicks says:

    We’ll see if the cross-Asia high-speed rail is really a “money pit” when Asia and Europe are completely linked via high-speed rail. We will start noticing the effects long before any trains start running. We are in fact funding it with our debt-service funds to the Chinese treasury. Thanks to that and our Wal-Mart convenience, China has the money to fill many pits. This is in fact, a huge resource grab, with potential ramifications more far-reaching than the proposed rail network itself. China is making deals with the affected countries which would effectively turn over to China, control of the natural resources within their boundaries. An example of this is that Cnina is reported to be conducting talks with Myanmar concerning control of the country’s entire reserves of Lithium in exchange for China’s funding of the proposed rail system through this country, which is vital for linking India with the Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the rest of South Asia. Obviously, Myanmar is not a country that we are prepared to trust in any business relationship, but China’s actions here do shed alot of light on what their motivations may be. And remember also that Lithium when an element which will be vital in that it could become as important as oil in the coming decades. China is shrewd. I really hope that we’re paying attention.Report

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