The Livable Communities Coalition

Working to improve Atlanta's quality of life through smart growth

Tag Archives: GRTA

Roundtable completes its task; it’s now up to voters

A message from Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman:

To Fair Share for Transit partners:

We’re pleased to announce that our efforts to create more transit options in the Atlanta area have paid off.

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

As you all probably know, the Metro Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable last week approved a project list allocating 52.4 percent of the anticipated $6.14 billion revenue from a proposed 1-cent sales tax to transit projects.

Last week’s vote was transformative and set a new direction for the region’s transportation priorities.  It signaled that the region’s view of transportation has  shifted from a  focus on roads to a more balanced policy that includes transit as an equally important component.

What does this mean for the region?

It means that the region will see more than four out of every 10 dollars collected  through the proposed tax being spent to develop new rail options in Cobb County, in the Clifton Corridor, and along the Beltline, which are expected to serve in aggregate nearly 65,000 riders a day. That number doesn’t include the 500,000 riders now served by MARTA, which will receive an infusion of $600 million to maintain its lines and equipment.

It means that an estimated 41,300 commuters will find new or enhanced bus routes that will reduce their traveling time and make their rides more efficient.

It means that the region will see a decrease in road congestion as well as enhanced transportation options that will spur development.

But it also means much more beyond those numbers.

To begin, it means that many residents will no longer be stranded in their homes on weekends due to the absence of transit options. It means that it will be easier and quicker to get to work each day. It means that the disparity between the halves with a car and the have-nots without one will shrink.

At its final meeting, Roundtable members pointed to the spirit of regional cooperation that ultimately led to agreement on the final project list.  Metro Atlanta residents can only hope this spirit will continue. It will take increased cooperation to ensure that the 10-county area continues to grow and provide a high quality-of-life.  And, with the approval of this project list, elected officials around the region signaled they are prepared to do just that.

But first we need to pass the referendum, scheduled for July 29, 2012.  While a recent AJC poll found that 51 percent of likely voters would pass the referendum if it were held today, that margin is very thin. The debate is really just beginning, and the issue will face intense scrutiny from voters.

A major campaign will soon be launched by private business leaders to educate voters about the importance of the referendum.  This campaign will need to engage people from all segments of our community if it is to be successful, and the Livable Communities Coalition hopes – with your help – to play an important role in making this effort a success.

In the meantime, I think all transit advocates should feel gratified by the success of the Fair Share for Transit Initiative.  It played a key role in making the case that a majority of citizens in the region want more transit and that investment in public transportation options will generate substantial economic and quality of life benefits.

We look forward to staying in touch.

Fair Share for Transit releases white paper to address GRTA question

Opportunities for Funding GRTA: Some Options and Alternatives: A Paper prepared by the Fair Share for Transit Initiative

October 11, 2011

Introduction

From the outset, the Livable Communities Coalition and the Fair Share for Transit Initiative have supported funding for GRTA Xpress bus service through the TIA as one element in a comprehensive strategy to expand the availability of transit  in the region.  We believe GRTA is a key part of the region’s transit delivery system and should expand, not contract, in the future.

However, recent events serve to divide rather than unite transit advocates around the issue of how to best fund GRTA over the next ten years.  TIA Amendments 9 and 10 propose to identify additional GRTA funding based on reductions to the proposed TIA funding amounts for MARTA (Amendment #9), Clifton Corridor, Beltline and/or Cobb County Transit line (Amendment #10). Given how thinly funded these proposed new systems or system enhancements already are, it is inevitable that transit supporters would not want to use these sources to meet all of GRTA’s remaining needs.

Further, it is also important to consider the relative TIA funding levels in the context of the transit service provided.  In 2009, MARTA averaged 504,420 weekday trips whereas GRTA had 7,337.[1] The current draft project list would allocate $600 million in funds to
MARTA and $95 million in funds to GRTA.  In other words, MARTA provides 68 times the trips that GRTA currently does, but would receive through TIA only six times the amount of funding. Based on these metrics, GRTA is being very well funded through TIA relative to MARTA, although we would argue that both systems should be funded at higher levels.

In this context, this paper offers some practical suggestions for how to provide funding for GRTA without unnecessarily weakening other transit projects and providers.

How much funding does GRTA need?

As a threshold matter, we should have a clear understanding of what GRTA’s funding needs are.   In this regard, the targeted funding mount for GRTA has evolved throughout the TIA process.  As the table below shows, both the staff funding recommendation and the current amendments would result in funds in excess of the amount initially requested.

TIA-AR-041

 

%
of Initial Funding Request
Initial  Funding Request $180,000,000
Funding
Recommended In Staff July 7, 2011 List
$200,000,000 111%
Funding
in Draft List
$95,000,000 53%
Funding
in Amendment 9
$34,400,000
Funding
in Amendment 10
$80,000,000
Draft
Funding Amount  Plus Amendments 9 and
10
$209,000,000 116%

Given that GRTA is already proposed to receive $95 million form the TIA, it appears to need somewhere between $85 million and $105 million in additional dollars to bring it to the funding level originally requested through TIA  or later modified by staff.

Should (will) the state fund GRTA?

It has been asserted that TIA funding is necessary because the State is not expected to fund GRTA  during the TIA period.   However,
GRTA has historically received some level of state funding, as indicated in the chart below.

 Funding
(Capital + operations)

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

Fare Revenue

$7,060,620

$3,908,970

$2,785,279

$3,907,212

$2,513,196

$1,586,757

$3,721,792

$25,483,826

Local Funds

$5,095,892

$4,474,474

$1,175,714

$4,259,186

$3,856,733

$9,103,268

$564,146

$28,529,413

State Funds

$6,315,869

$1,454,728

$4,046,507

$13,817,795

$1,074,382

$374,781

$1,782,476

$28,866,538

Federal Funds

$15,721,315

$7,826,820

$10,102,894

$16,724,317

$3,863,065

$24,326,823

$4,796,372

$83,361,606

Other

$0

$0

$0

$0

$78,213

$0

$0

$78,213

Between 2003 and 2009, GRTA received an average of $4.123 million in state funding per year.  Extrapolated over 10 years, this same level of funding would yield $41.23 million in state support for the TIA period.  This would represent somewhere between 39 and
48 percent of the gap funding GRTA is seeking.

Consistent with this historical data, the project description for TIA-AR-041 contemplates state funding for GRTA during the relevant years:

“The proposed level of funding ($95 million) will maintain current levels of service and the existing route structure for approximately five years, although it is anticipated that the state will also contribute funding to keep the system operational beyond
that timeframe
.”[2]

Moreover, Atlanta’s regional transportation plan, Plan 2040, also contemplates State funding on an ongoing basis throughout the TIA period.

TIP
Entry Number

Project
Description

State
Funding Amount

AR-280-2012 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2012 6,000,000
AR-280-2013 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2013 10,000,000
AR-280-2014 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2014 12,000,000
AR-280-2015 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2015 12,000,000
AR-280-2016 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2016 12,000,000
AR-280-2017 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2017 12,000,000
64,000,000

This plan was approved by the ARC board, comprised of the same elected officials now considering the TIA.  This six year funding projection, if extrapolated over ten years, would entirely meet the funding GRTA is seeking.

Everyone is aware of the uncertainties associated with future state funding for GRTA.  However, with the high probability of legislative consideration in 2012 of a larger role for GRTA in regional transportation governance and oversight, it is almost certain that funding issues will also be on the table for discussion.

What other sources of funding might be tapped for GRTA?

In addition to state funding, there are other ways GRTA could potentially raise additional revenues to meet its projected needs.  These include:

  • Fare increases.  GRTA could raise fares as a means to raise additional revenues. Although fares were raised in 2010, that was the first fare change in seven years.  It would be reasonable to consider raising fares again in the ten year TIA window. GRTA could also explore shifting from the zoned fare system currently in place to a true distance based fare system.  The graph below is a simplistic illustration of the revenue that could potentially be raised.

Annual Unlinked Trips (2009)

1,839,802
Fare Increase $0.50 $1.00
One Year revenue $0.9 million $1.8 million
Ten Year Revenue $9 million

$18 million

  • Local TIA set-aside.  Fifteen percent of the TIA revenue would be distributed among the local jurisdictions for local projects. If counties allocated just 1% of these local funds to support GRTA, it would raise $10.8 million over the ten years.
  • Flexible funding.  GDOT or ARC could program Surface Transportation Funds to cover GRTA capital costs.  STP funds allocated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act were used in this manner to offset MARTA expenses in 2008/2009 and this provides the template for how these funds can be “flexed” to cover the capital needs of transit providers.  Other regions and states have been aggressive and creative in their ongoing use of “flexing” strategies to fund needed
    transit in association with related road improvements.
  • Elimination of duplicative services.  Amendment #9 identifies examples where money might be saved by eliminating parallel or duplicate routes.  The Roundtable should also consider where funding for other projects – such as the proposed I-20 highcapacity bus service – eliminates the need for GRTA Xpress service along certain routes, thereby reducing GRTA’s overall funding need or allowing it to shift service to other underserved areas.
  • Toll Revenue. Excess toll revenue from the I-85 HOT lane project has been dedicated to fund transit service in that corridor. Similar agreements could be arrange for toll revenue from other HOT lane projects or GA 400.
  • Counties and CIDs.  Counties outside the current MARTAservice area like Cobb and Gwinnett have been leaders in implementing their own bus services.  All counties to be served by GRTA should be expected to contribute some local funds to ensure is maintained at, or even increased to, desired levels.
  •  Concessions and Advertising. GRTA can generate revenue by selling advertising space on the side of the buses and by entering concession agreements for the park and ride facilities.

Certain of these ideas may have more practical merit and implementation potential than others.  The point, however, is taken together they can generate meaningful revenue for GRTA and help it meet its legitimate needs without weakening other complementary transit projects and providers.

Conclusion

Through the actions of the Regional Roundtable to date, the GRTA funding gap has been substantially closed, and GRTA should be able to operate at existing levels for five years or more at current proposed funding levels. At the same time, the successful pursuit of the funding alternatives described above could not only generate the additional revenues that GRTA is seeking through TIA, but raise millions of dollars beyond that to fund further expansions of the system.

It is clear that GRTA will be an important part of the Atlanta region’s future transportation system.  It is in the interests of all transit
advocates and supporters to help identify ways to fund GRTA in an fair, equitable, and adequate fashion, and to support public leaders who pursue such actions.


[1]
FTA National Transit Database Agency Profiles, 2009 data.

Roundtable prepares for Oct. 11 meeting

The region’s transportation future gained some clarity at Thursday’s Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable.

For one, the full 21-member roundtable appears ready to hedge its bets on the transit vision outlined in the roundtable executive committee’s draft project list, released Aug. 15.

The proposed Cumberland transit line serves as one example of the compromises the roundtable will seek in negotiating a final project list.

On the other hand, there are other issues outside the control of the roundtable that complicate the negotiations. Those issues became so pronounced that the roundtable voted Thursday to table discussion on the most problematic amendments. At stake is a transportation vision that could bring metro Atlanta into the 21st-century.

And at one point, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed felt compelled to question the direction of Thursday’s proceedings when Douglas County Commissioner Tom Worthan expressed his belief more needed to be done to increase funding for GRTA Xpress buses at the expense of MARTA state of good repair.

Reed also warned that this process is the opportunity to get the right list that best serves cities and counties as the local economy recovers.

The recent transportation public meetings held in each of the ten counties proved critical in driving the amendment process, according to several roundtable members.

And while that public input seems to have delivered a message that a change in focus is desired, it may actually be the 11th hour politics driving the final negotiations as the roundtable works towards the Oct. 15 deadline.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the most recent poll shows a near consensus on metro Atlanta’s transportation problem.

According to the poll, 91 percent indicate it is important for the region to address its transportation problem in order to relieve congestion and improve quality of life.

Furthemore, 82 percent of respondents believe it is important to do more to encourage everyone to commute to work by bus or train.

But only 51 percent say they are likely to vote in favor of the referendum today, perhaps indicating the politics of the final list will be a significant factor in helping next year’s referendum pass.

The early talk about regionalism threatens to devolve into a scramble to help local voters determine “What’s in it for me?” Tuesday’s meeting may yet salvage a regional transportation vision for metro Atlanta that answers that question.

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