The Livable Communities Coalition

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

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.

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