Atlanta needs another year to plan its MARTA expansion

Streetcar 2 Feb 15

This sight doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

An expansion of MARTA has been a long time coming. Too long for Atlanta to blow it.

A new law allows Atlanta voters to decide whether to raise the city’s sales tax to pay for more rail and buses. Even for an agency that hasn’t laid any new track in more than 15 years, however, there’s such a thing as going too fast.

At the first of four public meetings about MARTA’s expansion plans, held May 25, Atlanta’s head of planning, Tim Keane, described the goals for expanding public transit.

“This is about creating more options for people,” Keane said, “and it’s about reducing congestion by getting more people out of their cars.”

Officials then listed all the wondrous projects that might be built. Not once, though, did they say how many people would be coaxed out of their cars.

Thinking I’d missed something, I inquired about the lack of figures. It wasn’t an oversight. The figures don’t yet exist, and might not before a November vote.

The explanation: Experts can’t project ridership, much less how many car passengers would be displaced, until there are more specifics about exactly where the new routes would run, where they would stop, whether vehicles would run in dedicated lanes, and how frequently vehicles would run.

Voters are being told this is merely “a call to implement,” as Keane put it, “a lot of work that’s already been done.” But what does it say about the work already done that it’s so vague no one can hazard a guess as to how many people would become transit riders?

As it happens, we have an example of what results from putting something somewhere just to do something: the Atlanta Streetcar.

You know the problems by now: Ridership is sharply below projections; costs are sharply above estimates. The state DOT has pledged to shut it down after June 14 if the city hasn’t solved 60 problems it has known about, in some cases, since the misbegotten thing was launched at the end of 2014.

Against this backdrop of incompetence and even negligence, the city now proposes to add 30 miles of streetcar routes.

Well, maybe. You see, the total bill for the list of wondrous is about $6 billion. The total expected revenues? About $2.5 billion. So we would have to beg Washington to pay for part of it, which requires money for operations and maintenance, which brings the total bill to some $10 billion.

If you’re wondering how the city would decide which projects to build first, the answer is a combination of “LOL, they’re not going to tell you that” and “it depends on which projects the feds would support.” The latter, of course, is how we got the streetcar.

Happily, there is a way out of this mess. The deadline for selecting projects is only imminent if the city insists on holding the referendum this year. But the city could hold it next year, spending the next 12 months working with MARTA on a prioritized list of projects based on actual estimates of ridership. Even better if the list represents an effort to build a coherent network that would boost ridership by more than the sum of its parts.

The only thing not served by waiting is our impatience. That’s the wrong customer to please.

Reader Comments 0

28 comments
Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@St Simons he-ne-ha  And in the "of all the dumb things, reader, this is your dumbest 'idear' file": This was a public charter school, not a religious school. I'll expect you to finally acknowledge that fact sometime after you acknowledge that fraud cases in traditional public schools have cost taxpayers far more money.

That doesn't mean what the Latin Academy founder did was right or excusable. It just means you go all the way to 11 on the selective outrage meter.

St Simons he-ne-ha
St Simons he-ne-ha

@Kyle_Wingfield @St Simons he-ne-ha 1) from the charter: "..academic and moral preparation for college.."

2) fraud loss amounts - yeah, you lose a lot more in the dollar machines than you do the penny slots. Clever wordsmithing there north campus alum.


If you wanna go to private school, go to private school. And pay for it. Quit mooching from the taxpayer. This is sick. And we will clean up this mess too in a few years.


DaltonbywayofBickley
DaltonbywayofBickley

You're 100-percent correct. They aren't ready and the vote should be postponed a year. It won't be, but it should be. Mayor? Governor? Y'all have some pull here.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@DaltonbywayofBickley Same for DeKalb County. A list of items with no cost estimates or priorities defined. But the voters approved the E SPLOST for education with no lists, priorities and costs defined. It strikes me as "funny" that with all the needs at specific schools, that no strategic plan has been determined and documented to support a vote.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar @DaltonbywayofBickley It's not "funny." They knew their audience: The DeKalb voters were willing to vote to keep a tax without having the foggiest idea what they'd get for it.

I guarantee the only question in the minds of Atlanta officials right now is not whether it's the right thing to do, but rather: "Are our voters as credulous as DeKalb voters?"

bu22
bu22

@Kyle_Wingfield @RoadScholar @DaltonbywayofBickley I was disappointed so few of us voted no in Dekalb.  Where have these people been through all the indictments?  Excellent article Kyle.  This approach is so typical of Atlanta.  They do things backwards.  Figure out the funding first, then the projects second, then figure out whether any of it makes sense last-often after its already built.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

I do not live or work in Atlanta.

When I visit I do not take transit and would not even if the system is expanded.

So, I don't have a dog in this fight EXCEPT when my tax money is used.

And using Fed dollars puts every tax payer regardless of state in the mix.

I fully realize that most if not all public transit is subsidized.

However, there is a difference between subsidy and welfare.

Public transit should charge a fee less than a taxi and offer a convenience, not a fee so ridiculously low it can't operate without tax dollars.

And save me the "poor people" card.  If they don't have a car, live too far from their work to walk, and don't have the money for public transit, its another bad choice they have made of which tax payers are tired of paying for. 

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@JohnnyReb Our roads are subsidized by the federal government too, should we raise the gas tax so they aren't charging a fee so ridiculously low they can't operate without tax dollars?

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@JohnnyReb So I guess all those people who work in Buckhead,Perimeter, Alpharetta and Roswell could afford to live there earning minimal wage?

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Aquagirl @JohnnyReb roads with the exception of toll roads are completely paid by tax dollars.

So you are comparing apples to oranges.

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@JohnnyReb Uh, of course roads are paid for by tax dollars. MARTA is paid for with tax dollars too, so what's your heartburn?

I think you're trying to make some point here but your communication skills are still out to lunch.

PKS
PKS

@JohnnyReb @Jefferson1776 They take it to provide you with fancy things like roads and airports and bridges and schools. Unless you own and run your own farm and can completely exist without leaving it, your ideas are misguided at best.


JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Aquagirl @JohnnyReb I beg to differ.

MARTA can be compared to toll roads, but not non-toll.

My point remains the same.

Public Transit can and possibly should be subsidized but fairs have to be at a level so that said subsidies are not welfare.

It is not a responsibility of tax payers to provide drastically below market rates on transportation so that people can get back and forth to work.

Where they live and work are their choices, taxpayers should not subsidize their bad choices.

TicTacs
TicTacs

@JohnnyReb @Jefferson1776 No you owe it for the freedoms they defend and the services they provide.  Your attitude will keep you mad,  be that way if you want.


No free rides.

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@JohnnyReb Then why do we subsidize people who live in suburbs? As I said, they don't pay enough in gas tax to build the roads needed. The remainder comes from general revenue. You just think it's okay to subsidize one type of travel but not another. 

C'mon out of that white 'burbanite closet and tell us why you really dislike MARTA riders. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Aquagirl @JohnnyReb you're just really hard headed, aren't you?

Why you can't see the difference between roads and MARTA as to taxes is your problem.  Seek help.

And apparently you have a problem in thinking that all opposition is race based.

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@JohnnyReb I need to seek help? I'm not the one who has decided roads are special and the rules don't apply to them. 

You, on the other hand, are showing clear bias for a reason you are unwilling to explain. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Jefferson1776 @JohnnyReb I can honestly and comfortably state I pay more income taxes than most people make.

In fact, my Alternative Minimum Tax for 2015 is more than I paid for a brand new 1966 Mustang V8 GT.

So free ride is not something that applies to me.

Instead, it's how my money is being used that bothers me.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Aquagirl @JohnnyReb how many times do I have to explain it?

Roads are entirely supported by taxes except toll roads.

MARTA is supported by fares and taxes.

So if you are to compare MARTA to roads, it has to be toll roads.

And like toll roads, I usually have choice to either use or not use MARTA.

So, if you are determined to try and justify subsidies for MARTA existence and expansion based on public support of roads, then it must be toll roads.

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@JohnnyReb Ah, I get it. Because YOU don't need to use MARTA, it's optional.

I know exactly where you're coming from---a place with you at the center of the universe.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@RoadScholar @JohnnyReb you obviously do not understand the free market.

If those fast food, etc. workers were not available the owners of those businesses would have to pay more per hour so the workers could live close enough to work.

But, instead of letting the free market handle itself, Libs skew it by wanting to subsidize this that and the other for the poor with tax dollars.

Now its raise the minimum wage demand.

Libs have created such a mess its almost like we need a reset to zero.