The Livable Communities Coalition

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

Is there a silver bullet train solution?

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

There are no silver bullets; nor are there silver bullet trains. 

That is the crux of a recent Economist blog that responded to a Businessweek article about the emergence of Megabus service. Businessweek suggested Megabus may be a free market response to limited long-distance travel options that will revolutionize the industry and undermine the President’s ambitious plans to develop a high-speed rail network. 

As The Economist blog notes, government subsidizes many of forms of transportation and has most notably subsidized air and ground travel at far greater rates than rail service. 

Much has been made ofFlorida’s rejection of federal money to jump-start high-speed rail in the state.  In the final analysis, it may very well not make the most sense to try to subsidize high-speed rail inFloridawhen other travel corridors in the Northeast, theMidwestor even other part of the Southeast have a more pronounced need. 

Both the article and the blog look dubiously at the proposedTampatoOrlandoproject. 

The lesson in this media tit-for-tat is that government does play an important role in identifying transportation priorities that help keepAmericaon the move.  The key is for government to take a balanced approach based upon what meets the greatest need in particular corridor.  Most likely, a blend of approaches will be needed. 

While high-speed rail has generated a lot of headlines nationally, metroAtlantais having its own conversation about its transportation future. 

My organization, the Livable Communities Coalition, has launched its Fair Share for Transit initiative to help prepare metroAtlantafor the looming transportation vote. 

The referendum, scheduled for summer 2012, will ask voters whether they wish to use a one-penny ten-year sales tax to fund transportation improvements throughout the region – or not. 

We feel there is a general consensus in the region that we can no longer afford to move about the region on our existing transportation network. 

Moreover, our own poll conducted in 2010 shows there is support for an appropriate blend of transportation solutions. 

Our Fair Share for Transit is focused on ensuring that transit would receive significant financial support in the event the referendum passes. In our view, a Fair Share for Transit means anywhere from 40 to 60 percent.  Improving areas around transit centers by making those areas more walkable should also be included in that 40 to 60 percent.

This process brings to mind the Dyson vacuum cleaner commercials in which the company’s found James Dyson articulates quite brilliantly his company’s mission: “Solve the obvious problems others seem to ignore.”   

There are a lot of obvious problems in our current transportation network. Delivering a more sophisticated transit system to the area is one obvious problem we can address, so let’s chip away at the obvious problems in order to make metro Atlanta greater.

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2 responses to “Is there a silver bullet train solution?

  1. Eric May 4, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Folks even if the “project list” looks good just know there is a good chance it won’t be followed. Just saw this post by someone: “Georgia diverts the tire tax and the solid waste and Hazardous waste “trust funds” tax to other uses instead of cleaning up tire disposal or cleaning up toxic waste sites which is what the funds were supposed to be earmarked for. Georgia told no one about this shift.
    http://www.tirereview.com/Article/83578/georgia_diverts_millions_in_tire_fee_money.aspx#

    The Metro Atlanta Transportation Plan also has a long history of programing funds for transit or rail which never gets spent and then money is shifted to road building. The fact this bill has only a 10 year window yet Federal Transit funds require 20 to 30 year windows for funding commitments is also a hurdle to assuring any transit project on the list actually gets built.

    • The Livable Communities Coalition May 5, 2011 at 9:49 am

      One of the key provisions in the legislation and in this process is that the funds will have to be used for the projects that shape the final regional transportation list. The ten-year window certainly marks significant progress and a growing commitment to forward-thinking transportation planning. More work will need to be done to get closer to that goal of 20- to 30-year windows. Some steps have been taken in an appropriate direction. Much is still uncertain, but we are committed to participating in this process to try to ensure that transit will be well-represented in the final list.

      Thank you for your comments, Eric.

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