Where transit in metro Atlanta is heading

The biggest shift in recent years among Georgia’s GOP lawmakers may be their attitude toward mass transit. And their train of thought on the subject is approaching its destination.

In 2010, Republicans’ angst about MARTA nearly derailed the bill that brought us the ill-fated T-SPLOST. Now their questions are more about how to deliver transit service across metro Atlanta, and who should oversee it.

Coming soon to a suburb near you? (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

Coming soon to a suburb near you? (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

That last bit about governance is what’s enthralled them lately. Both the state House and the Senate this year fielded study committees on the topic as the state moves slowly toward a more significant role in regional transit. Before legislators loosen the purse strings, they want to strengthen their control over how and where the money is spent.

Don’t expect a bill to settle the matter in the coming legislative session. But the outlines of a plan are taking shape.

First, the usual framing of this issue — “When will voters in (Cobb/Gwinnett/fill-in-the-blank county) decide to let MARTA in?” — is due for a serious update. While a major reason for Republicans’ warming to transit is the vast progress the transit agency has made under the leadership of Keith Parker and the current board, the irony is MARTA may not be the primary driver of transit expansion to the suburbs.

This owes in part to lawmakers’ continued belief suburbanites won’t embrace the MARTA brand. Many of the negative perceptions Parker and Co. have addressed, from low service levels to high crime rates, persist outside the agency’s three-county footprint. There’s a feeling it would be easier to sell these voters on transit under a different name than to educate them about MARTA’s improvements.

The feeling may be mutual. MARTA leadership has expressed its lack of interest in a “shotgun wedding” with the suburbs. That doesn’t mean MARTA wouldn’t go if asked and embraced. But it has enough on its plate, especially with Atlantans’ approval last month of a 0.5 percent sales tax to fund expansion in the city, that it won’t go begging for an invitation.

Taken together, these are good reasons to expect regional transit leadership to be housed elsewhere. As it happens, the state has a candidate waiting in the wings: the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, or GRTA.

GRTA already operates the Xpress commuter bus service from nine metro counties outside the MARTA service area. Its role in regional transit will only grow with the planned network of tolled express lanes, which will guarantee reliable trip times and give free access to transit buses.

The exact nature of GRTA’s role — running a regional network itself, merely coordinating among the existing transit agencies in the region, or something in between — is still up for discussion. That’s the biggest reason not to expect a bill in 2017. Legislators are more likely to hire a consultant to sketch out some options, including not only who would run what, but what needs to be built and how much money it would cost.

One possibility: MARTA continues to operate within Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton, while GRTA serves people commuting to (or from) those counties or between suburbs. Cobb and Gwinnett decide whether to continue operating their own services within their borders or to contract with GRTA or MARTA. All of it operates under a single system for paying fares and making transfers.

The structural questions lawmakers are wrestling with are important. But all commuters want are choices that are clear, reliable and affordable (both in user fees and taxes). That’s the ultimate destination.

Reader Comments 0

155 comments
Drew Presley
Drew Presley

Simple.. rich white folks don't want the "ghetto" in their neighborhood.

Harrold Preston Roberts
Harrold Preston Roberts

Keep Marta away from OTP I say. With all of the growth and expansion within the circle, who wants to hike it way out to nowhere-land for work. I certainly don't. I live, work, party and play in the circle and I never want to leave outside of 285 unless I'm visiting family.

Billy Andy III
Billy Andy III

How would MARTA expanding to the metro area OTP hinder you from working and playing and basically living life ITP? You do know you can maintain your city life without ever leaving the inside of the perimeter even if the buses and trains are expanded to the surrounding areas, right?

Billy Andy III
Billy Andy III

How would MARTA expanding to the metro area OTP hinder you from working and playing and basically living life ITP? You do know you can maintain your city life without ever leaving the inside of the perimeter even if the buses and trains are expanded to the surrounding areas, right?

Kris Henningsen
Kris Henningsen

Do you know how to Google?I have lived here for 50 years.

Shane Burrell
Shane Burrell

Anything to back that up. Any facts or crime stats to back you up

Kris Henningsen
Kris Henningsen

Shane Burrell You knew MARTA was in financial trouble right?

Shane Burrell
Shane Burrell

So you said trouble followed at a few of those stations the crime was down..soooooo go ahead keeping trying Charlie Brown

Shane Burrell
Shane Burrell

Kris Henningsen how long to been here means what? no one cares it meaningless‼Marta being in financial trouble has what to do with crime? You're reaching and straw grabbing

Nicholas Swaim
Nicholas Swaim

Didn't they do a survey at Town Center mall of shoplifters arrested that they had ridden Marta and transitioned to Cobb transit to get there? 33 arrested in one day all came up there via marta

Nicholas Swaim
Nicholas Swaim

I do remember when Clayton County had the c-tran buses and those two teen boys rode down from Atlanta switched to ctran to attend a party on upper Riverdale rd. Ctran didn't run 24 hours so when they needed to get they just walked out to the street and carjacked the first person they saw

Kris Henningsen
Kris Henningsen

147 crimes committed at Marta stations in 2015 alone

Nicholas Swaim
Nicholas Swaim

Look at edgewood shopping center the carjackings and robberies. The street robberies in little 5 and EAV. Those guys rode over from West side on the train.

Nicholas Swaim
Nicholas Swaim

Why don't "Rich white folks" want marta in their neighborhood? 1. They don't use it. 2. They're the ones who get robbed

Kris Henningsen
Kris Henningsen

I grew up in Dekalb County and worked with a lot of people who moved there years ago and now their cars are being broken into once a month

Lorrie Parr Angell
Lorrie Parr Angell

People usually move OTP to get away from things like Marta, overcrowding, better schools, lower taxes. It really shouldn't matter why they don't want it.

Mike Ull
Mike Ull

Everyone in Atlanta should visit Berlin, which has a public-transport system that gets you from doorstep to doorstep. Then they'll pronounce, "What the hell is wrong with my political leaders in Georgia?"

Kevin Keith
Kevin Keith

Ignore Kris. Clearly hasn't been following the news the past three years. MARTA has posted three years of a SURPLUS. Anyway, Mike, many of us OTP and ITP who own passports completely agree with you.

Ray Tadeo Sr
Ray Tadeo Sr

The OTP have always complained that they did not want the rif raf coming to their suburbs.. Come on folks you would rather sit in traffic for hours?

Karl M Anderson
Karl M Anderson

It's a false narrative, rif raf don't hop on the bus to the burbs to commit crimes. They drive. Public transportation is an horrible getaway option.

Matthew Montgomery
Matthew Montgomery

Please bring MARTA to Gwinnett. I'm sorry, but I can't stand Gwinnett County Transit. I go to Georgia Gwinnett College and I'm trying to seek public transportation options around, but thruster limited since it's in Gwinnett County.

Johnny Knight
Johnny Knight

If MARTA is not going to Kennesaw State, University of North Georgia, Macon and Athens then who cares? MARTA has been stifled by all the BS from all these counties not wanting NON-Whites in their counties coming on MARTA. Well people your counties already have the Demographic that rides MARTA you are so scared of.

Susan Smith
Susan Smith

I moved from the burbs of Chicago, everyone rode the train. Wasn't a color issue, it never should be, since the population is expanding in all directions that's the issue.

Skarlett Maclain
Skarlett Maclain

Why can't they move more corporations and things like Avalon in Henry, Fayette, Clayton, South Fulton counties? Enough with building in the north. Things need to go south now!

Susan Smith
Susan Smith

We are looking primitive with the world passing us by. D.C. to Boston train line has been contracted, 15 year project. We can't even get down Hwy85 and 400. Sick of the Ball Yards, when you can't even get to work, entertainment seems very secondary.

Karl M Anderson
Karl M Anderson

Right and guess what, the thugs in DC didn't ruin the precious VA suburbs. They stayed in DC. Why do so many believe such crazy things here.

Susan Smith
Susan Smith

We are so ready for a better transportation system. Gwinnett would be safer if our kids weren't driving on these highways to Emory, Tech, GSU, Kennesaw, etc to school every day.

Adrienne Bloodworth
Adrienne Bloodworth

Moving Africans Rapidly Thru Atlanta... All the rest only want the Braves?

Katie Price
Katie Price

Where is transit in metro Atlanta is heading

Mike Morris
Mike Morris

I know, right? And just this month, they axed a darned good copy editor who had been there for 42 years.

Clint Barbour
Clint Barbour

This article has been posted for 15 hours, and the AJC still hasn't fixed it.