How Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle would engineer MARTA’s future

Imagine if this train didn't have to stop at every station while going to the airport. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

Imagine if this train didn’t have to stop at every station while going to the airport. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

Perhaps no Georgia Republican has supported transit more publicly than Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Certainly, none who holds such a high office and aspires to a higher one.

So, as the legislative session wound down last month, I asked Cagle about a pared-down bill to expand MARTA in Atlanta. He spoke, animatedly, for almost an hour — giving the impression he didn’t fault MARTA for originally seeking a larger expansion so much as having too little vision.

“There are people being served by this entity,” Cagle began. “But I would submit to you that if it were truly adding immense value, it would be oversubscribed. And I don’t know that we’re at that place. … How do you fix that? What do you make MARTA?”

Note the transformation implied there. Cagle is clearly more impressed by other U.S. systems — “Go to D.C., go to any other metropolitan area, and you will find a system that people see value in. And they are utilizing it daily.” — and by intercity networks abroad. Consider “the ability to get on a train and go anywhere in Germany you choose, with an app on your phone that says exactly when the train is arriving.”

In Georgia, he suggested, that could mean “a true commuter option” enabling “someone in northern Gwinnett to get on a train and come to the city (of Atlanta), with all of those amenities, with WiFi (and) the ability to do an hour’s work.”

That involves more than rebranding the agency or improving security, perennial ideas Cagle echoed, or adding fancier train cars. It would require a revamped MARTA, one he described as “country club” and even “elite.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

“If you have (more) capital, you could introduce new types of deliverables for consumers that are more of a nonstop approach,” he explained. “There is no reason why you couldn’t introduce express (service) with local and integrate it with the existing system and add to it.”

Sounds expensive. But Cagle warned the state won’t invest in MARTA until it’s convinced the agency is on a new track. He called for changes like those that turned around Grady Memorial Hospital, including a “sustainable financial model” and a “governance structure in which the state and all stakeholders feel confident investing.”

This may be surprising to those who thought MARTA’s general manager, Keith Parker, already led such a turnaround. “I think Keith, when he came here, he had a lot of challenges — I mean a lot of challenges — he had to face,” Cagle allowed. “And I think it was more of steadying the ship than thinking futuristically about what could be. …

“Whoever leads this organization’s going to have to look at it that way,” he continued. “But I don’t think Keith’s had the freedom and the ability to look at it that way. … You can’t place all the blame at his feet. It’s like a football coach. If he doesn’t pick his players, are you really going to blame him for losing?”

MARTA, he said, needs “the right people in all of the positions” so that “you really do have a board, and it is made up of independent experts.” The agency should be run “as a business, not a political organization.”

His bottom line: “You’re sitting on a gold mine, and unfortunately you’re squandering it. That’s the way a business guy looks at it.”

Reader Comments 0

23 comments
SouthernHope5
SouthernHope5

I like MARTA.  I take it every day to work and i'm surrounded by folks who also ride daily.


That said, I've read this article 3 times now and i honestly don't know what Casey Cagle is saying.  I mean, it *sounds* impressive but i'm not sure what he would like to have MARTA do next. 

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

Is he really saying he wants to improve Marta? From the comments it's difficult to actually tell. First he mentions other cities like DC but the region was unified in expanding their systems unlike the encouraged balkanization here. Second Marta could be folded into a state run organization with intercity commuter rail in exchange for state funding....I honestly believe that is something Atlanta area voters can get behind. However until this year's road SPLOST, if you will, debate there's been no acknowledgment that Marta or any type of rail had a viable future. Thank goodness for the compromise to allow Atlanta to move forward but there is no appetite from the state on truly leading in this arena. Third having express rail, which should have been designed in the first place, at this point would be impossible to do without new lines which will be quite expensive. At the end of the day, it is clear that if commuter rail went into Cobb, Gwinnett, North Fulton, or Henry counties it would be a viable option for those drivers. It is completely unclear that Marta will stop being used as a tool to bash "Atlanta" in the rest of state.

Fourthwarden
Fourthwarden

@ATLAquarius Pretty much. He wants a system that he can sell to those who've historically looked down on transit for their various, often ignorant, reasons. He wants a system to showcase to the businesses to say 'see, we're hip and getting stuff done, you can totally stay here and not move'  while having no real idea how to get anything done, at all.


It's pretty silly, and would even be comical, if it wasn't for the fact that he's going to try and run for Governor.

EastATLGuy
EastATLGuy

Marta will never work. Period. The only way a train system will work is if you rebuild the city on a grid system.

I dare anyone to challenge me on this.

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

@Eastatlguy,

Why won't it work without the city being rebuilt?

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@EastATLGuy Dare? Linking the activity centers would be a good start with a distribution system local to the areas of denser development.

lvg
lvg

@RoadScholar @EastATLGuy Denser development has ocurred wherever there are MARTA stations . If MARTA were allowed to expand around the Perimeter , 285 would have some relief

Fourthwarden
Fourthwarden

@EastATLGuy MARTA already works. It's safer than the WMATA, is financially stable, and is looking at building out into a major expansion, after the first new county in 40 years joined just a couple of years ago.



While a grid would have been nice for the metro, what we need to do now is concentrate on the multi-nodal nature of what we have now, both existing and emerging. Luckily, that's pretty much exactly what's going to happen.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Stepping over the dead carcass that is MARTA and pursuing the gold standard in transit. 

The "modern" streetcar (oxymoron) is all the rage these days. Quaint but fixed in place.

Seems like a waste of valuable resources to me.

Go BIG or GO HOME! 

bu22
bu22

@cabasse @FIGMO2 Its subpar compared to about any other major city in the US (even moreso the metro).  There was a transportation expert quoted in the AJC a few years back saying Atlanta was #19 of the top 20 metros in its arterial network (didn't say who #20 was-Boston?).  It was a bunch of 2 lane winding country roads with no left turn lanes.

cabasse
cabasse

@FIGMO2 the problem isn't that it's fixed in place, it's that it shares ROW with cars without any kind of priority signaling or exclusive lanes. atlanta's inadequate road system has no business attempting to serve high capacity transit when it can't even serve the cars being driven on it. (this applies more to the suburbs than the city, but even the city's road system is sub par compared to other places like Dallas)

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

” The agency should be run “as a business, not a political organization.”


What does this statement mean? What political agenda does the marta organization have? This all sounds like code of 'get more good old boys in marta then it will be run like a business'. And actually running marta like a business means it will cater to a certain base and focus more on profits. The OPPOSITE of what a mass transit system should do.

TicTacs
TicTacs

Only when a republican wants votes will he make promises that will help working folks, after he get the votes, they won't fund it.

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

Con posters eviscerate Cagle for apostasy in 3-2-1...

lvg
lvg

Translation- MARTA needs to have more white people in management and lower level positions to satisfy the cons.

EastATLGuy
EastATLGuy

@lvg


Ah yes, the race card. The left just can't live without it. 


RoadScholar
RoadScholar

" He called for changes like those that turned around Grady Memorial Hospital, including a “sustainable financial model” and a “governance structure in which the state and all stakeholders feel confident investing.”"

Funny how the state has tied one arm behind MARTA's back by restricting what they can use the fare box money for. Maybe if MARTA would go to the suburbs like DC and other locations they would see a marked increase in usage and revenue!?! Also with Georgia's /Atlanta's mentality of being married to their cars ......

DaltonbywayofBickley
DaltonbywayofBickley

@RoadScholar Yet, the burbs continue to resist, despite the fact the demographic changes they feared service could bring have already happened.