A Plan B For Transportation

October 10, 2012 8:30 am

by Buzz Brockway · 75 comments

Recently I attended a Legislative Briefing sponsored by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and the Conservative Policy Leadership Institute. The final topic of the day was transportation and what to do in the wake of the TSPLOST rejection. Kelley McCutchen offered the plan which relies on bus rapid transit as an alternative to light rail and alternative routes around Atlanta and across Georgia.

The presentation begins with this:

It is very evident that we must build trust. We believe we need to build trust though Transparency, Reform and Performance. One simple way to increase transparency is to broadcast the GDOT board meetings on the Internet, just as many other state board meetings are made available to the public.

We need reform. We’ve heard many ideas and we’re not sure which are the best. One common complaint is we need to do something about the “alphabet soup of agencies.” We believe there is an opportunity to simplify governance by consolidating some of these agencies.

The gas tax is a short-term solution – not just for us but for every state and for the nation. We have 5-10 years before we have to make some fundamental decisions about how to fund transportation. That window gives us an opportunity to build trust through performance. Actions speak louder than words. The GDOT was #1 and #2 in the nation last year in bringing projects in 1) on time and 2) on or under budget. That’s the kind of performance we need to continue.

So how do we pay for this? GPPF offers several options: changing the gas tax, putting all the gas tax toward transportation (which will require either budget cuts or replacing that revenue in the General fund), toll lanes, and/or sales taxes devoted to transportation.

This is a serious plan worthy of debate. Hopefully nobody came out of the TIA debate thinking the status quo is acceptable. We in the Legislature need to take this issue up and I hope the GPPF plan is part of the discussion.

Below is video of McCutchen’s presentation:

Mrs. Adam Kornstein October 10, 2012 at 9:34 am

I moved to GA in 1983, I heard all this same chatter about building a transportation system that didn’t rely so heavily on car travel. I’m still waiting, and not holding my breath. That’s why their isn’t any trust. It’s like Lucy and the football.

This will only be taken seriously when the Chamber of Commerce, the highway pavers and developers say it will, and not a moment before that. The other issue it that our “local” control people haven’t any skin in the game, as long as Cobb and Clayton aren’t part of the plan in any meaningful way.

John Konop October 10, 2012 at 9:51 am

Buzz,

If I was doing this I would first figure out what plan would have the most positive impact on the economy short term and long term. Than I would figure out how to pay for it based on an ROI model. And weight the returns from short term to long term. This could also be done in stages. If a short term idea drives ROI faster than you have more money for a long term ideas. But until you understand the economic impact, it seems backwards to figure out how to pay for something with no plan.

SmyrnaSAHM October 10, 2012 at 9:53 am

Oh, I think the Legislature made it pretty clear this past year how they feel about us local folks.

In the meantime, doesn’t the state constitution require that all of the gas tax go towards the DOT? It’s my understanding that by directing $0.01 of the gas tax towards the general fund, the Legislature thus violates the constitution. Is this interpretation off base?

Bob Loblaw October 10, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Yes, Sahm. Off base, but your logic is correct. Let’s call it the “its a duck, but we’re going to say that it’s not” clause.

The GA Constitution requires that “motor fuel taxes” go to GDOT to pay for “roads and bridges”. However, there is one more penny of tax placed upon motor fuel, but it is called “not motor fuel tax”. Seriously.

It goes to the General fund. Transportation funding legislation voted on in each chamber during ’08 and in ’09 would have required the “4th penny” to go directly to transportation funding, included, but not limited to, roads and bridges. Bills failed to pass both chambers.

SmyrnaSAHM October 10, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Ah ha – got it. Quack.

Calypso October 11, 2012 at 6:12 am

Bob, assuming your explanation is correct (and why would one think otherwise;) ), that extra penny tax is one of the most farked-up, convoluted things I’ve heard in a long time.

eburke October 10, 2012 at 10:42 am

You want us to trust the DOT and General Assembly to fix things. Why did they fire Gena Evans at DOT and then put her in charge of the Tollway Authority? Why does the General Assembly regularly redirect funds designated for special purposes to the states General Fund? I am becoming more and more disenchanted with the Republican leadership of this State.

Calypso October 10, 2012 at 11:11 am

“I am becoming more and more disenchanted with the Republican leadership of this State.”

Take a number.

Scott65 October 10, 2012 at 11:42 am

I just finished watching the presentation embedded, and to be honest, there was a lot to like. 65 million for BRT is WAY under funded though. He needs to add a 0 to that number to be realistic, and he explained BRT really well (although it worries me that he said they could operate in regular traffic…a no no for BRT). It seemed like a balanced approach overall. Oh, and good luck with any school system saying they can make due with half a penny instead of the whole thing.

Scott65 October 10, 2012 at 11:43 am

oh…and good luck keeping the legislature from diverting money to the general fund…they wouldn’t be able to “go fish”

Buzz Brockway October 11, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Actually the .01 gas tax is still spent on transportation because its sent to local governments as part of State contributions to their projects.

Scott65 October 10, 2012 at 11:08 am

I’ve been saying for years that BRT is a much better alternative to rail. Now, the real definition of BRT is that buses have exclusive ROW, and intersection crossing preference (means when the bus approaches the intersection the light turns green and the bus continues without having to stop). This is great way to get “rail like” service with a fraction of the cost, and if ridership verifies, you already have the ROW acquired, stations built, and the the system in place for traffic lights so you have half (or more) of the cost paid up front. Buses can also be moved to other locations as needed. The main thing though is it must have its own ROW or its just another bus just like the others…whether you take a lane from existing traffic or create another…I think the Buford Hwy corridor would be a perfect use of BRT. You could easily narrow the existing lanes and create median stations/stops. The ridership is there as well

Chris Huttman October 10, 2012 at 11:45 am

Also a big BRT fan even though many of my liberal friends are extremely anti-bus.

bgsmallz October 10, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Bus Rapid Transit was the alternative plan to a train network in the 1967 and help sink the original vision of a 60 mile, 32 station vision that goes back to ….wait for it….1961.

http://www.princeton.edu/~ota/disk3/1976/7602/760206.PDF

Help me out with something…where is the evidence that BRT works? We’ve been picking the winners in this debate for 60 years…and those have been the auto industry and roads. Y’all understand that we have BRT now, right? Unless we are planning on adding extra lanes (or subtracting lanes for BRT…we see how well that worked on 85), what changes in this scenario? And if we are going to spend the $$ on new lanes, new bus stations, and what not…why not spend them on trains which have a proven track record of spurring new development? Oh…and just as a side note, BRT doesn’t work if you can’t get anywhere from the stops. So the BRT takes you to X and you work in Y…without a system of rail (or a budget for taxis) you wouldn’t choose to take BRT over your car.

World class regions have trains as people movers. If Plan B is going for the ‘cheap’ option, then I say we go with Plan C and forget the whole thing. I’d rather have that money go towards something real (like my property taxes which will be higher b/c I have to live closer-in to have a reasonable commute) than a band-aid that really will not accomplish anything.

bgsmallz October 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm

By the way, this is a great piece on the benefits of BRT…and I point it out because it asks the baseline question… it is not HOW…it is WHY…

“Ultimately, there are two ways to determine if a BRT project, or any mass transit intervention, is successful. First, whether or not the project reduces the door-to-door travel
time and travel cost of all existing public transit passengers in the impact area, and second, whether or not it attracts new passengers from other modes.”

http://www.itdp.org/documents/20110526ITDP_USBRT_Report-LR.pdf

If we aren’t accomplishing those two goals, it doesn’t make sense to do it. I notice that the Georgia Public Policy Foundation focuses on the HOW…(although if someone knows where this fictional GA-400/I-75 interchange is that they keep referencing, I wish they would tell me where it is…#fail)…that’s the wrong question, Buzz. If you start with the HOW, you are going to try to fit the problem into your pre-selected solution. Leaders start with the WHY and frame the solution based upon the evidence.

Read the link…it is a very pro-BRT piece (but it provides real, in-depth analysis and shows what a gold standard BRT system should look like vs. the dog-poo the GPPF copy and pasted into their power point). If the GOP wants Atlanta to be the lead dog on BRT, I could get behind it….but…and this is a big but…we need to go ‘all in’ to make sure we are hitting the “WHY.” Halfsies on either rail or bus will not work….we’ve got 60 years of evidence that confirms that.

Buzz Brockway October 10, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Thanks. I’ll check out the links you provided.

Scott65 October 10, 2012 at 11:10 am

I meant have more than half the cost paid up front to upgrade to RAIL…really? still no edit button???

Joshua Morris October 10, 2012 at 11:46 am

What am I missing here? How did we pay for the roads we have? I can’t imagine how fuel efficiency has dropped fuel tax revenues enough over the last 50 years to cause such a problem. Maybe the factor of maintaining existing roads along with building new ones and exploring mass transit options is just that big a financial burden. I’d like to see a real economic explanation of how we got to this situation with transportation funding from the way we did it in the 1960s.

One thing is clear to me from conversations I’ve had with people who are familiar with the inner workings of MARTA: rail should be private. Government clearly cannot cleanup the utter ineptness and blatant waste that is rampant among folks employed by inner city bureaucracies.

seekingtounderstand October 10, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Gov. Perdue mortgaged our future funding and we are paying off his debt for his projects for the next 20 years. They came up with TSPLOST as a way of getting more.
We also lost the money from feds called matching funds since our dollars are going to pay off debt.
Gov. Perdue costs the state its future and for what……………his own personal wealth building program.

Big Tuna October 10, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Region wide you say? Sound the alarm. Georgia Public Policy Foundation is a front for Agenda 21.

Stefan October 10, 2012 at 12:09 pm

None of this matters unless transit can win riders that have other options. In order to that it needs to win on time or economics or both for people that own cars. Otherwise, you will continue to have a transit system that exists primarily to move people who don’t have any other options. Just having buses won’t change that. You need a separate system.

Oh, and whose suit is McCutcheon wearing above? Is he making a comment on how ill-fitting our transportation system is? That’s meta, man.

benevolus October 10, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Really! That’s the kind of suit you wear when you’re packing some heat!

elfiii October 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm

“It is very evident that we must build trust.”

Now there’s a thought!

CadeThacker October 10, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Whenever somebody talks about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) all I can think of is the Onion’s High Speed Bus idea. Knowing the Gold Dome inhabitants, this is probably on the docket for discussion.

The VelociBus brought you by the Onion.

“The buses cruise at a speed of 165 mph….”

Calypso October 10, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Thanks for the belly-laugh!

wicker October 10, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Can anyone propose an idea that has actually been implemented in a large metropolitan area similar to Atlanta? Or is this just another “anything but rail … or really anything that gets us from having to work with MARTA because we don’t like who governs MARTA” pipe dream?

P.S. Governor Deal has already stated that he opposes doing anything to the gas tax, because that would mean taking money from the general fund. Which would mean either a tax increase to replace the lost revenue, or real actual spending cuts that harm people other than, well, MARTA riders (meaning people who vote Republican). Deal has no appetite for either, and neither do his gold dome cohorts. Folks should have thought about that when they kept insisting “we can come up with a Plan B!”

bgsmallz October 10, 2012 at 7:55 pm

I said above…the presentation by this group was dog poo. Sorry to the folks that put it together…

http://www.itdp.org/documents/20110526ITDP_USBRT_Report-LR.pdf

I’m not a BRT supporter…I think Atlanta would be really well served by commuter/mag-lev lines with a robust series of light rail and street cars in the appropriate locations (think high-speed/low stops rail from Canton to Dunwoody via a Cobb-Perimeter cooridor with connecting trolley service throughout Pill Hill and the PCID)…the argument that Atlanta isn’t dense ignores that maybe we want to keep it that way; but we will not be able to do that without unplugging ourselves from our interstates. HOWEVER…I think the BRT could be an option if done right…that’s where that study comes in.

Rambler14 October 11, 2012 at 8:00 am

If I remember corectly,
The biggest success stories of BRT are in China, Mexico and Latin America.

wicker October 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Not very transferrable to Atlanta, is it?

bgsmallz October 12, 2012 at 9:23 am

Why? I’m a supporter of rail transit but let’s assume that the problem can be solved by a world-class BRT….why wouldn’t that fit Atlanta again? The whole point I have is that if we are going to do it, we can’t just do enhanced bus service. That’s a waste of time and money…true BRT takes infrastructure investment BUT it is much less than rail and can be implemented from scratch to completion in 5 years.

Can I make one other suggestion on a Plan B? We need an outer by-pass. The trucks on the north end of 285 during rush hour are ridiculous. One truck takes up the same capacity of 3 cars….I saw 40 of them lined up waiting to get on 85 north last night within a 1/2 mile of the exit. One other note as long as I’m rambling out ideas that no one really cares about…we need to add barriers to the exit to 85 from 285 so that the outside lanes can flow easier. The exit for 85 should start no later than PIB. I don’t care if you have to put down temp concrete dividers…the problems caused by people passing the backed up traffic in the left 3 lanes and then stopping traffic behind them as they try to merge into the backed-up traffic at the last minute causes massive delays on the top end.

Bob Loblaw October 10, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Two statements from McCutchen in the excerpt:

It is very evident that we must build trust.

The GDOT was #1 and #2 in the nation last year in bringing projects in 1) on time and 2) on or under budget. That’s the kind of performance we need to continue.

Help me out on why Georgia needs to build trust with its voters on transportation with that type of track record.

We need money and vision and neither must be limited to a county line designed in the days where one needed to be able to ride to the county seat and back to the line before sunset. That was 1787 transportation policy. Time for an update.

Harry October 10, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Maybe we need county consolidations. Then at least elected politicians are directly answerable to voters on transportation issues rather than being shielded by un-elected regional bureaucrats at the whim of special interests.

wicker October 11, 2012 at 1:08 pm

County consolidations when Jan Jones is trying to split Fulton into two, possibly 3 counties (including taking communities into the new proposed Milton that were never in the original Milton)? Good luck with that. Incidentally, elected politicians directly answerable to voters on transportation issues gave us T-SPLOST (rejected by voters) and attempted to give us a Northern Arc (result = defeat of Roy Barnes) and an airport in Gwinnett (ditto).

There are no easy answers. The only way to solve these issues are A) compromise and B) working with people who differ from you politically. As long as urban Democrats and suburban Republicans keep refusing to work together for the common interest in favor of either trying to go it alone or impose their ideology on the other side, nothing is going to get done. Or at least nothing useful and effective.

Harry October 11, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Just don’t ask me to fund MARTA.

wicker October 11, 2012 at 8:09 pm

@Harry:

All right, if we grant you that precondition, then what preconditions are you willing to give up to get Fulton and DeKalb to the table? It has to be something SIGNIFICANT, something that you WANT, NEED and is VITAL to the interests of your region. Otherwise, it isn’t a compromise. Get it?

Here’s the deal: in order to achieve actual regional cooperation, you may not have to fund MARTA, but you will wind up doing something else that you dislike just as much, if not more. And so will the people in Fulton and DeKalb. That reality is something that neither side is willing to get through its head.

Harry October 11, 2012 at 8:57 pm

What if we just don’t want to cooperate at all with counties operating a system that can’t get rid of unions and corrupt, inept management?

wicker October 12, 2012 at 2:42 pm

@Harry:

You are projecting again. First of all, you have public employee unions in every county in Georgia with a significant population. They exist in Gwinnett, Cobb, Forsyth etc. too. It is just that conservatives don’t complain about the union government employees up there. They only complain about the “inner city” government employees. Mind telling me why that is? Second, a Georgia Republican calling anyone else corrupt and incompetent is the pot calling the kettle black.

Primarily, the issue is that you would rather the region go down the tubes than deal with the fact that people who don’t think like you (and based on your comment on another thread, don’t look like you) are in power. You are part of the problem, not the solution.

Harry October 12, 2012 at 3:07 pm

You’re being judgemental again.

gt7348b October 14, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Gwinnett County Transit and Cobb Community Transit operate with the same union as MARTA.

Harry October 15, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Yes, and that’s a problem, although I don’t know if their pay scale and benefits are as high as Marta’s.

The Last Democrat in Georgia October 16, 2012 at 12:01 am

MARTA’s problem isn’t necessarily the union as much as it is their failure of their fare-pricing structure to keep pace with the inflation of their operating costs.

Simply put, MARTA’s fares are entirely too low for the type of service that they are attempting to provide and their fares would still likely be too low for the type of service that they are attempting to provide and expected to provide even if they were getting direct financial help from the state of Georgia.

You can’t collect too little from the farebox over 40 years of operation and then complain that the state should be spending the gas tax (which is wholly inadequate enough for road funding as it is) to fund MARTA.

If MARTA’s fare-pricing structure had kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years and had been setup to cover most of the cost of operations and maintenance, the agency likely would not be facing a $3 billion long-term operating deficit and eventual extinction.

bgsmallz October 16, 2012 at 9:24 am

Guys-

I hate to break up this little party…but Marta’s problem has been and remains that it doesn’t go where it needs to go. Unions, inept management, racism, complaints that the system doesn’t serve the poor well enough, alternative ‘bus’ solutions, etc. etc. etc. have all been the scapegoats for leadership punting a pretty simple idea…we know where it needs to go to be successful, but we block that and then blame its lack of success on someone besides ourselves.

Time to look in the mirror. We’ve know since 1961 (NINETEEN SIXTY-ONE!!!) that in order to have a transit system that works and accommodates growth, it needs to reach Cobb, Gwinett, and Emory. Honestly, it’s stupidly simple at this point fellas. Do we want a transit system that has a chance to work (which means we need to expand it’s reach and capacity) OR not? If we want one that works, let’s start with expansion plans and THEN decide what kind of agency/reforms need to happen with the operations.

http://homer.gsu.edu/blogs/library/2012/10/10/%E2%80%9Cplanning-atlanta%E2%80%9D-shows-past-illustrations-of-future-redevelopment/

Please look at the link. It’s just a waste of time if you aren’t starting with the simple reality that transit can’t work if it doesn’t go where it needs to go.

mpierce October 16, 2012 at 9:57 am

“MARTA’s problem isn’t necessarily the union as much as it is their failure of their fare-pricing structure to keep pace with the inflation of their operating costs.”

Really?

“MARTA is spending $50 million above the national average for employee benefits, but if it revamped its health care, retirement and worker compensation plans, it could erase a projected $33 million operating deficit, an audit released Monday reveals.”

mpierce October 16, 2012 at 10:11 am

If we want one that works, let’s start with expansion plans and THEN decide what kind of agency/reforms need to happen with the operations.

As a Cobb resident I would much prefer to see reform before expansion.

The Last Democrat in Georgia October 16, 2012 at 10:48 am

mpierce October 16, 2012 at 9:57 am

I didn’t say that the union absolutely was not the problem at all, I said that the union is not necessarily the problem as in the union is not the biggest and only problem facing MARTA.

Affecting MARTA way more than union costs is the fact that the agency only collects a flat $2.50 one-way fare and had tried to keep their fares as low as possible in the face of continued rising operating costs over the years.

MARTA just simply does not collect enough at the farebox to operate at even a very modest level of service, not-to-mention the much higher level of service that many would like them to operate at.

To compare, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) which operates heavy rail trains that acts a regional commuter rail service in the San Francisco Bay area, has a distance-based fare-pricing structure that includes fares that range as high as $11.00-plus one-way for crosstown service and collects nearly 80% of its operating revenue from the farebox while (what little is left of) Atlanta’s MARTA only collects roughly just less than one-third of its operating revenue from the farebox on average.

Being almost solely dependent upon the very-limited revenues from a one-cent sales tax while collecting only not even one-third of your operating revenue from the farebox (which, BTW is likely the BEST place to collect operating revenues seeing as though people pay directly into it with every trip) and begging a perennially cash-strapped state government for more money is likely not the best recipe for success, union or no union.

And while you and many others outside of Fulton and DeKalb counties would understandably like to see reform before expansion, with MARTA having a nearly $3 billion long-term operating deficit, the reality is that MARTA likely won’t last long enough to see reform or expansion as we have most likely unfortunately reached the point where MARTA is no longer financially viable, a reality which makes expansion talk highly impractical at this point.

bgsmallz October 16, 2012 at 11:05 am

@mpierce

Your response highlights the problem we’ve had for 50 years. There have never been enough excuses for Cobb and Gwinnett on why they don’t want to come to the table and talk about what it would take for them to join in. You want reform? Great! So do I….but you can’t reform anything from the 300 section. You have to come to the table and be willing to get in the game.

Marta will never be successful without connecting it to the areas it needs to go. Cobb and Gwinnett have continued to reject that…if Cobb residents want to help with reforming (PLEASE HELP!) then get behind an expansion plan with caveats that Cobb will not approve these unless X,Y, and Z happen. I promise you that a majority of residents in Atlanta, DeKalb and Fulton would support major reforms if it meant that Gwinnett and Cobb were going to be a part of the system and were going to help fund the system.

That’s my point.

bgsmallz October 16, 2012 at 11:11 am

LDIG-

Completely disagree…expansion is the only way to save transit in this town. If we can’t do that, then we might as well roll it up and put it to bed.

I do agree that flexible fares would be a smart first step….but read the auditors report…pensions and overpaid workers are killing the thing, too.

No sacred cows….if you really want transit to work, you have to be willing to allow privatization of some services. It isn’t happening any other way. If you aren’t willing to admit that unions and pensions are a problem with Marta’s bottom line in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, you’re not truly in favor of regional transit.

The Last Democrat in Georgia October 16, 2012 at 5:07 pm

bgsmallz October 16, 2012 at 11:11 am

Again, I never said that unions and pensions were absolutely not the cause of MARTA’s current struggles as there is no denying that unions and pensions have played a substantial role in MARTA’s current plight.

But, the fact that the union and pensions have been allowed to become such a substantial issue (along with the refusal to collect the proper amount of fares that is actually needed to properly and adequately operate, maintain and EXPAND the transit service they provide) is much more a function of the way that MARTA has been incompetently managed (or mismanaged) throughout its history.

Other systems, like MARTA’s Northern California counterpart BART which is operating in the black and in the process of expanding service, still have to deal with transit unions and pensions, the fact that unions, pensions and the refusal to collect the proper revenues at the farebox have become issues that have been allowed to overrun and bury MARTA speaks volumes about how the agency has been managed throughout its existence.

I also don’t disagree with your assertion that expansion is one of the main ways to either save or enhance transit in this transportation and mobility-challenged town, but with the very dire financial straits and death spiral that MARTA is presently in, the agency that is currently known as MARTA will most likely not be the anchoring transit agency that gets expanded in the transport-challenged and transit-needy Atlanta region.

mpierce October 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Population density
Atlanta: 4020/sq mi
San Francisco: 17179/sq mi

Metro Atlanta 630/sq mi

I don’t see how BART is a valid comparison for MARTA (especially when you want to expand MARTA to an even lower density area).

The Last Democrat in Georgia October 17, 2012 at 1:04 am

mpierce October 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Despite Metro Atlanta’s much lower overall density of population and development than the Bay Area, density is not uniformly spread throughout a major metro region whether they be extremely dense overall or extremely spread out overall.

Even within the most densest overall metro regions on the continent (Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington, etc) there are extensive areas of sprawling automobile-oriented suburban and exurban development where commuters often must either drive, taxi, carpool or vanpool to the nearest bus transit (express regional commuter bus) or rail transit station (regional commuter rail, heavy rail, light rail, etc) as all transit in major metro areas is not only accessed by passengers who walk-up at stations in dense urban areas but is also accessed by those who arrive at the station via automobile (personal vehicle, carpool, vanpool. local or express bus) in sprawling suburban and exurban areas far removed from the dense urban core.

Park-and-Ride transit service (where suburban and exurban trains are fed by passengers arriving in personal automobiles, taxis, carpools, vanpools and express buses) is a critically-important component of transit systems in major metro regions that are both dense and sprawling and everything in-between.

The whole idea in expanding a transit service like MARTA (likely Metro Atlanta’s successor to MARTA at this point) out into even lower density areas is to give suburban and exurban commuters a choice of either proceeding (by driving, taking a taxi, carpool, vanpool or bus) a shorter distance to a transit stop or transit station or choosing to drive a longer distance on a heavily-congested expressway to job centers close to or in the urban core.

The reason why BART is so important as both a comparison point and an example is because BART is a model on the North American continent in how to operate (and maintain and expand) a transit service mostly with revenues collected overwhelming from the farebox as 78% of BART’s operating revenues come from fares in a fare structure that has increased and kept pace with inflation throughout the agency’s existence.

When BART needs more revenue to continue to operate their transit service at a very high level (some BART trains run as often every 2 minutes), BART’s brain trust and advocates don’t beg a cash-strapped (and virtually bankrupt) California State Legislature to give them a handout, BART raises their fares and does so on an almost annual basis and Northern Californians understand that the fares that they pay funds the very-high level of transit service that have come to enjoy and depend on in a road infrastructure-challenged metro region.

BART is also a model for MARTA because it is an extremely well mananged agency despite dealing with many of the same union and pension issues in a metro region with a much higher cost-of-living (which means that BART must pay much higher wages and benefits to its employees than an agency like MARTA must pay to its employees).

mpierce October 17, 2012 at 9:36 am

The density in San Fran gives them a much larger pool of potential customers. The increased demand allows BART to raise prices higher than MARTA can.

While people can certainly drive or taxi to a station, the much lower density means that people have to travel much further to get to that station. Gas prices in San Fran are a dollar higher per gallon. According to a new study released by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, San Francisco is one of costliest cities in the country to park an automobile. These factors adjust the cost/benefit ratio which also limits what MARTA can effectively charge.

I agree that distance based fares are worth doing, but the idea that MARTA can have a fares anywhere near BART is simply not feasible. MARTA ridership is falling at the current rates.

Again, they are spending $50 million more than average for employee benefits and have a $33 million operating shortfall. Before they try raising fares an before they try expansion, they need to cut their expenses and bring them in line.

The Last Democrat in Georgia October 18, 2012 at 1:04 am

mpierce October 17, 2012 at 9:36 am

“The density in San Fran gives them a much larger pool of potential customers. The increased demand allows BART to raise prices higher than MARTA can.”

Remember, though Metro Atlanta has a much lower overall density than the Bay Area, that even in a metro region that is as notoriously sprawling as Metro Atlanta, the rate of density of development and population is not uniformly spread evenly throughout metro region, meaning that there are many areas within a dense metro region like the Bay Area that have very low densities with sprawling automobile-oriented development while the 28-county Atlanta region has areas with more than abundant density to support and anchor high-frequency transit lines (rail and bus).

Also, the main factor as to why more of the nearly 6 million inhabitants of the Metro Atlanta region isn’t necessarily because of gas prices that are substantially lower than Northern California, but is more because of the substantial lack of a desirable or even adequate and accessible mass transit option in the Metro Atlanta region. If a clean, much more accessible, dependable, comprehensive and extensive mass transit option existed in the Atlanta region, best believe that many Metro Atlantans and North Georgians would gladly frequently pay to utilize that option rather than sit in frequent gridlock on the expressway, especially on days with very heavy delays (weather, collisions, traffic incidents, etc).

And, at this point, I agree that what remains of MARTA could not possibly even think of raising their fares to attempt recover more operating revenues because doing so at this point would only serve to accelerate the vicious death spiral that MARTA is in by running away passengers who would likely refuse to pay more for increasingly declining service (falling revenues -> service cuts -> fewer passengers -> less revenue -> service cuts -> fewer passengers -> less revenue -> fewer passengers -> less revenue -> etc, etc, etc = vicious death spiral for MARTA) .

At this late date in MARTA’s increasingly-limited remaining existence, a distance-based/zone-based fare structure would only be effective if MARTA were overhauled into something else completely new and regional in scale, likely GRTA and likely sometime in the next decade after MARTA financially collapses given the current seemingly clueless political climate in Metro Atlanta and, especially, at the state level in Georgia where the powers-that-be can’t even synchonize the traffic lights, much less come up with a serious, workable, ADULT comprehensive transportation plan.

And MARTA can continue to attempt to cut their expenses all they want, but the current organization is likely so far gone financially (and perception-wise, politically) that expansion of transit in Metro Atlanta is just simply nowhere near likely to happen under the (dwindling remaining days of the) MARTA banner.

Rambler14 October 11, 2012 at 8:02 am

“Help me out on why Georgia needs to build trust with its voters on transportation with that type of track record.”

Here’s one for you:
http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2012/aug/06/nathan-deal/deal-claim-he-fulfilled-toll-promise-needs-major-r/

seekingtounderstand October 11, 2012 at 10:37 pm

This conversation is going no where. Simple fix……….give tax credit to businessess who use telecommuting and company bus services plus move all state workers out of downtown.
Moving federal government workers out of Atlanta would improve traffic also.
This would be the best use of our tax dollars and result in human beings having better lives not having to fight traffic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
But as usual people are not being represented, only you guys pushing your agendas for personal gain.

Harry October 11, 2012 at 10:41 pm

I don’t have a bean in this debate, but your idea of decentralizing work is good. When it’s possible let’s put the jobs where the people are.

The Last Democrat in Georgia October 12, 2012 at 6:45 am

But work has been decentralized and is continuing to be decentralized as instead of there only being a concentration of blue-collar and white-collar jobs primarily in and around Downtown Atlanta, as was largely the case in past eras when Atlanta was a much smaller, much more provincial town, employment is decentralized with job centers in Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, Perimeter Center/Dunwoody, Cumberland, at the Airport, Emory University, in West Metro Atlanta off I-20, in North Metro Atlanta along the GA 400 Corridor, small, medium and even larger-sized business and industrial parks and complexes found in each county throughout the greater metro region.

Not-to-mention that the jobs are where the people are as the people, almost 6 million of them, are near and adjacent to the major logistical crossroads that is the Atlanta region.

Heck, there are people that graduate from almost any major SEC, ACC, MEAC, SWAC, Southern Conference or even Big Ten school (you name it) and move to the major population center in Atlanta (the Atlanta region) because Atlanta is where the jobs are (one of the highest concentration of jobs on the continent).

Harry October 12, 2012 at 7:25 am

Yes, it’s true in the case of most private sector jobs, but government workers are still heavily concentrated downtown. Maybe there’s nothing to be done about it other than reducing the overall size of government.

The Last Democrat in Georgia October 12, 2012 at 8:25 am

Despite its obvious shortcomings, Georgia state government is actually one of the most efficiently operated in the union as Georgia is one of the states that has been able to keep a balanced budget through the economic downturn.

And though there is always an argument to be made for reducing the size and scope of the federal government, some of the federal offices that are in the Atlanta region (particularly the courts and the Centers for Disease Control) likely cannot be easily reduced as there are always lawsuits flying and there are always diseases breaking out that pose serious threats to public health.

Though you make a good point about the size of government, in a major population center of nearly 6 million people that is as critically logistically important as Atlanta (a city/metro that is likely the most important metro area in the Southeastern U.S.), there is always going to be a significant federal presence.

But the problem with Atlanta traffic is not with government employees as other very major cities in the nation still have very severe traffic problems despite not being home to the seat of their respective state governments.

The problem is that the Atlanta region and the state of Georgia hasn’t invested enough in an adequate multimodal infrastructure (both in terms of roads and transit) to handle the increasing logistical needs and demands of a growing metro region of nearly 6 million people.

It doesn’t matter whether the local industry in a major metro area is government or private or varying mixes of both, the transportation infrastructure still must be in place to handle the people that must commute to and from work those at those public and private jobs in a metro region of 6 million people.

It’s not wise to attempt to run away parts of your tax base just because you do not want to invest in the roads and rails that are critically necessary to handle the numerous activities and movements that tax base generates.

Calypso October 12, 2012 at 9:26 am

“…Georgia state government is actually one of the most efficiently operated in the union as Georgia is one of the states that has been able to keep a balanced budget through the economic downturn.”

I’m putting a red circle around today’s date on my calendar, for I doubt I’ll hear something so complimentary out of you regarding state government for a long time.

Full disclosure: I usually agree with your assessment of the functioning of state government, though not always so vehemently.

Carry on.

Harry October 12, 2012 at 9:52 am

In 1978 Georgia had half as many state workers as Oregon. Today there are twice as many.

wicker October 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Compare the population of Georgia to that of Oregon and get back to me. I’ve been to Portland, and it is no Atlanta. Also, Oregon is a much more liberal state than Georgia.

Harry October 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I’m just saying the trend here is not good.

Scott65 October 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Harry, I suggest you go to Dekalb Co and try to get a building permit…then get back to me on how we have too many government workers

mpierce October 15, 2012 at 10:14 am
The Last Democrat in Georgia October 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Good points. With a population of about 3.8 million people, Oregon has less than half the population of Georgia’s population of roughly 9.8 million people while a metro area like Portland has only about a third of the regional population of Atlanta with Portland being the home to a slightly inland, yet somewhat less significant, seaport and Atlanta being roughly 3-4 hours away from one of the world’s fastest-growing and busiest seaports at Savannah which has a directly overwhelming effect on Atlanta’s road network with all of the exceptionally heavy freight truck and freight rail traffic that the seaport helps to generate.

Also, Portland deals with much less through traffic as Portland is not quite anywhere near as centrally-located as Atlanta is in relation to a more densely populated part of the country as Portland straddles a not-quite-as-busy Interstate 5 in the much less densely-populated Pacific Northwest while Atlanta is at the confluence of three of the busiest superhighways in the Americas in I-20, I-85 & I-75 in a much more densely-populated part of the continent in the fast-growing Southeastern U.S.

Though, a good point about Oregon is that their state capitol is located in Salem, which is about just less than 50 miles outside of their largest city of Portland while Georgia’s state capitol is located smack dab in the middle of our largest city and metro in Downtown Atlanta, not unlike Phoenix which is the largest city and capitol of Arizona or a Boston which is the largest city and capitol of densely-populated Massachusetts, though at least the state of MA has a rail-anchored transit infrastructure to help aide the very-limited road network of the Boston area unlike the state of GA which has very little transit infrastructure in place to aide the very road-limited Atlanta region.

Another good point about Oregon is that the state of OR is switching over to funding its road network with more heavily with user fees instead of an increasingly outdated and outmoded gas tax.

The Last Democrat in Georgia October 12, 2012 at 6:02 am

Not bad ideas as if I had my druthers, the seat of state government would be either in Macon or Milledgeville where it was in the first place because of the central location in relation to the rest of the state geographically.

At this point, the question is would the cost of building an entire complex of new state government buildings (a new Statehouse, state government offices, etc) in a location like a Macon or a Milledgeville, the cost of physically relocating almost the entire state government out of Atlanta and the cost of relocating thousands of year-round state employees out of Atlanta really be worth the perceived savings, especially when the void left by the departure of the seat of state government would likely be quickly filled by private industry (because of Atlanta being the site of the busiest passenger airport on the planet) and the upgrades to the transportation network would be needed anyway in what would still be a metro region of nearly 6 million people even after state government left? (witness metro regions like Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Houston which still have to spend heavily to maintain and upgrade their transportation infrastructures and still have to deal with extremely heavy traffic despite not being the home to the seat of their respective state governments).

Also, would the federal government really be all that amenable to moving its employees and operations out of a very major metro region and population center that is centrally located within the very fast-growing Southeastern region of the U.S. and home to the busiest airport on the planet?

Would the feds really be all that open to the idea of moving two federal courthouses, the Centers for Disease Control (which sits adjacent to one of the finest institutions of higher learning and cutting-edge research on the entire planet in Emory University) and a very high concentration of federal offices away from a very major population center and logistical crossroads (where three of the busiest superhighways on the planet converge near the world’s busiest airport)?

Also, if the feds have a major operational presence in virtually every other very major population center in the country of 4 million or more people, why should Atlanta (a very major population center of nearly 6 million people in the Southeast U.S.) be the exception and why would the feds choose to move completely away from such a very major center of commerce, industry, business, education, research, culture and (especially) logistics? Why would the feds want to move such a critical base of operations more than 10-15 miles away from the world’s busiest airport?

seekingtounderstand October 11, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Dear Harry: As every human being living in Georgia knows, no common low cost solutions to traffic will be used. Our leaders on both sides and at all levels will only do things if the personally profit and spend, spend, spend some more. They do not sit in traffic, many leaders have cars with drivers like Casey Cagle. We truly are the forgotten man in the state of GA.
When is the last time you heard one idea from our government that didn’t cost you more and made your life harder? Can’t come up with one example can you.

Harry October 12, 2012 at 7:28 am

Too much government is the problem.

wicker October 12, 2012 at 2:54 pm

@seekingtounderstand:

” Simple fix……….give tax credit to businessess who use telecommuting and company bus services plus move all state workers out of downtown.
Moving federal government workers out of Atlanta would improve traffic also.
This would be the best use of our tax dollars and result in human beings having better lives not having to fight traffic!”

Actually, it isn’t simple at all. You know why? It doesn’t work. You can’t identify a single community in this country where this has actually worked.

Tax credits to companies that use telecommuting? You mean those that already exist in this state? And have for decades? Companies won’t take advantage of it. Companies prefer the higher productivity and more cohesive company culture that comes from having their workers in an office where they can work together and be managed instead of everybody being at home watching ESPN and reality TV when they’re supposed to be working.

Company bus services? Not cost effective. Workers are so spread out that it would cost a ton of money. Also, there is the little problem that not everybody wants to come to work at the same time or leave at the same time, and not everybody wants to go straight home from work. And yeah … moving state and federal offices out of downtown … to where exactly? Cobb? Gwinnett? Or some other place that doesn’t have the benefit of central location, proximity to each other and to transportation, and the other reasons why those offices were placed downtown in the first place?

If these were good ideas, they would have been implemented already, if not in Georgia, somewhere else. The fact that they haven’t been ANYWHERE is evidence that it is not a good, workable idea.

Harry October 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm

The reason it isn’t being done is because of politics, not commonsense reasoning.

The Last Democrat in Georgia October 14, 2012 at 1:43 am

The reason that state and federal government offices and employees are not being moved out of Atlanta is not only because of politics, but even moreso because of cost and simple logistics.

Why would the feds and the state pay to build brand new government facilities in another part of the state further away from existing major transportation infrastructure like the Interstates and the world’s busiest passenger airport at Hartsfield-Jackson, especially when that kind of transportation infrastructure and its very central location in relation to the rest of the Southeastern part of the continent is the reason why the feds and the state chose to have such a very large presence here in the first place?

I’m not very sure that the cost of building brand new office facilities and the cost of moving their operations and employees could be justified to the public, especially when there would still be a pressing need to pay for transportation improvements after those federal and state government facilities were moved out of Atlanta because of Metro Atlanta would still have a population of well over five million inhabitants and would still be a very major logistics hub in Southeastern North America with the world’s busiest airport, the confluence of three of the busiest superhighways on the planet, the relative nearby location of one of the fastest-growing and busiest seaports on the planet at Savannah and the confluence some of the busiest freight railroad lines on the planet.

The cost of rebuilding and moving federal state offices to another part of the state would not come as a substitute for paying for transportation improvements and upgrades, but rather on top of paying for transportation improvements as there is just no way to avoid paying for transportation improvements in a very centrally-located metro region of nearly 6 million people as the void left by the movement of fed and state offices out of Downtown Atlanta would likely very quickly be filled by something else (likely an expansion of Georgia State University and the private industry that expansion would attract).

seekingtounderstand October 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm

No doubt, Last Democrat in GA is a Looter!
Most of what you claim is false nonsense.
Company commuter buses do work and its a wonderful way to get to work and use the hot lanes.
12 to 14 employees meet up at a parking lot and one drives them in a company van. You build your work day around the bus, its done all the time.
Many tax credits have expired and are not worth the effort to companies unless those carrots exist.
Spywire now allows companies to monitor workers at home.
Pretty much every argument you made can be denied for lack of common sense……………
You have got to be one that benefits from any transportation spending.

The Last Democrat in Georgia October 14, 2012 at 11:39 pm

“You have got to be one that benefits from any transportation spending.”

…I wish. Though I have been accused of owning a paving company so many times that I just might as well start one as “The Last Democrat in Georgia Paving Company” sort of has kind of a nice ring to it.

And I don’t have any problems with your idea of company commuter buses and encouraging more telecommuting in the work situations that they are workable and never said that I had any problem with encouraging company commuter buses and encouraging more telecommuting where possible as you may have conflated me with Wicker on that one (though keep-in-mind that those ideas are not necessarily applicable in many situations).

The only ideas that I thought are likely not workable or practical for budgetary, political or logistical reasons are the ideas of moving all state and federal government operations out of Atlanta.

While the idea of moving state and federal government facilities out of Atlanta is appealing to many for obvious reasons (Who wouldn’t like to get rid of those government clowns by moving them far, far away?), it just does not seem that those who push that idea have really truly figured in the cost of rebuilding state and federal government facilities in another part of the state (likely Macon, because of its central geographic location in relation to the rest of the state and its location at the confluence of Interstates 16 & 75, though Macon might not necessarily be the only candidate for a relocation of state and fed government operations) and the cost of physically moving those operations (moving office equipment by way of leased vehicles and equipment, employee relocations, etc).

Also, even after state and federal operations were relocated out of Atlanta, Atlanta would still be a very large and highly-populous metro region with a fast-growing population of nearly 6 million people that would still have a transportation mobility problem that would need to be addressed, a transportation mobility problem that primarily involves too many vehicles and not enough roadway space to handle them.

In a dynamic metro region of nearly 6 million people, there is just simply no way to avoid the routine transportation spending that so many around these parts seem to abhor as the spending that you propose to move all state and federal operations out of Atlanta away from the logistical base (business, education, research, transportation, etc) that those entities very highly desire to be near would be in addition to, NOT in place of the transportation spending that is necessarily to keep nearly 6 million Metro Atlantans moving.

wicker October 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm

“Company commuter buses do work and its a wonderful way to get to work and use the hot lanes.”

And we should believe this because you say so? And if this is the case, why don’t companies in other cities use them? Why don’t more companies in Atlanta use them? And let’s say that you have a company or location in Atlanta that has 250-500 employees. 100 of them live in Fulton. 100 live in Cobb. 100 live in DeKalb. 50 live in Gwinnett. 40 live in Henry. 10 live in Clayton. Not in the same community in those counties, mind you. But spread out all over Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Clayton and Henry. How’d you like to pay for that? Out of your own thin profit margin?

“Many tax credits have expired and are not worth the effort to companies unless those carrots exist.”

The tax credits expired because no one was using them. There was a gigantic push to get more companies to try telecommuting when I first moved here less than 15 years ago. It flopped.

“Spywire now allows companies to monitor workers at home.”

Spyware allowing you to monitor remote employees … do you realize how ridiculous you sound? (I work in IT by the way. Let’s just say that YOU’RE WRONG!) Look, you are making it sound as if companies want to have their employees telework, but are being prohibited from doing it by liberal big government transportation advocates and social engineers. Here’s the deal … if it worked, companies would do it on their own. They have every reason to want to do it, because they could save money on office space, utilities, etc. plus the benefits to workers (yes, workers do support telecommuting). COMPANIES don’t do it because IT DOES NOT WORK. Even if it did work, there is the fact that COMPANIES DON’T WANT TO DO IT AND THERE IS NO WAY TO MAKE THEM. Given the choice between being forced to have their workers telecommute in Atlanta or having them work in Boston and Charlotte where they won’t be forced to telecommute, they’ll relocate to Boston and Charlotte. And new companies will avoid Atlanta, the one city on the planet where they’ll HAVE to have a telecommuting workforce, like the plague because they will instead locate to ALL THE OTHER CITIES WHERE THEY CAN HAVE THEIR WORKERS IN THE OFFICE SHOULD THEY SO CHOOSE.

“You have got to be one that benefits from any transportation spending.”

You have got to be the one who opposes it for ideological reasons.

gt7348b October 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Hey – I found a Plan C – http://www.highwayskymover.com

Seriously, I’m glad the GPPF has finally recognized that transportation, especially transit options, need operating expenses instead of just saying BRT and virtual managed lanes without addressing the operating expense issue. My main problem is that yes, in some circumstances BRT can be cheaper. However, that is not always the case here in Atlanta as we are not one of the states on the Northwest Ordinance and therefore subject to the grid system of surveying and road layout found in most of the rest of the United States. Any serious BRT system of exclusive lanes, bar a few arterials such as Buford Highway and Fulton Industrial Blvd, will require significant ROW takings and relocations. Even massive expansion of the HOV/HOT system of managed lanes does not solve anything unless there are separate system to system interchanges – something GDOT has found extraordinarily expensive in the managed lanes system plan. I honestly think GDOT (HNTB – who says we don’t privatize things) did a nice job on laying out the issues with managed lanes that are conveniently ignored by those more focused on a solution rather than solution an actual problem. http://www.dot.ga.gov/informationcenter/programs/studies/managedlanes/Pages/default.aspx

What is needed is a technically sound plan that addresses the region as a whole. Wait – we kinda of have that, at least for public transit. In my professional opinion, ARC/TPB/RTC’s (whatever – it was a joint effort) Concept 3 plan does do that for the transit system. It is technically sound and backed up with documentation on the alternatives examined and the tradeoffs made in creating a system. While you may not like ARC’s Board, and they are certainly not an implementation agency, the transit portion of the transportation plan is probably the most thoughtful and logical we’ve seen in more than 30 years. Additionally, they are responsive to further planning and are updating it (see their October meeting). I forget the commentator who said it, but I also wish GPPF would stop starting with the solution and build upon existing sound, technical work.

One more aside, I wish the Chamber would just pay attention and look up from their blackberries once in a while to realize serious, thoughtful work on transit system planning and governance has been underway for at least six years if they would only pay attention (**cough**CW and RB**cough**).

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