The Livable Communities Coalition

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

Monthly Archives: December 2011

A statement on transit governance

Livable Communities Coalition interim executive director Jim Stokes recently directed the following comments on transit governance to members of the Transit Governance Task Force.

I am Jim Stokes, the interim executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition of Metro Atlanta.  Our Fair Share for Transit Initiative has been the champion for transit in the metroAtlantaregion.  Our 86 member organizations working together had a critical role in having 52%, or $3.2 billion, of the regional project list allocated to transit.

Now that we have the regional project list, we believe that having the right transit governance structure is essential to passage of the transportation sales tax referendum next July.  Because the region’s sales taxpayers will be the source of funds raised under the referendum, we are convinced that our region’s voters will vote favorably on the referendum if they know that the entity overseeing the region’s combined transit systems is accountable to their locally elected officials.  And it just makes sense to have representatives of the jurisdictions providing the funds have decision-making power over the region’s transit systems’ utilization of the funds approved by the referendum.

We urge this Task Force to develop legislation providing for a regional transit entity with a majority of its board members being appointed by local elected officials.  We would prefer that this be a new entity.  However, it could be an existing entity if that entity is restructured to make it a metro region entity with a majority of board members appointed by the region’s elected officials.

This is not to say that the regional entity’s board should not have state representatives appointed by the Governor or the legislature.  In fact, we think that state participation is important and hope that this participation would eventually lead to some level of state funding of metroAtlantaregion’s transit systems.

We also believe that regional board members’ votes should have some appropriate relationship to the population that each board member represents and the financial contribution that each member government or transit agency makes to the regional transit entity.  We are confident that a formula could be developed to provide for such appropriate proportional representation.

We also recommend that that serious consideration be given to having one or more transit operators on the regional board.

Finally, we believe that a regional transit agency should have as part of its mission – not only transit service responsibilities – but also the explicit responsibility for integrating future transit investments with development patterns.

The Livable Communities Coalition stands ready to assist this task force, and others, to address the important issue of transit governance for the metro Atlantaregion.

Thank you for the opportunity to present these remarks.  I would be pleased to answer any questions.


Anti-transit myth #11: No one uses transit

Excerpted from Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind.

Myth 11: On average, most of the seats on a bus or train are empty.

The anti-transit troubadours usually sing this line only in passing, as a quick reference to “empty buses” or “empty trains.”

And how many seats are occupied in the average automobile? Even in rush hour, the answer is usually one, out of four or five. During the same rush-hour, if you look at the average bus or rail car, all the seats are taken and some passengers may be standing.

Transit systems must be designed to handle rush-hour volumes of people. They can and do adjust to some extent to non-rush-hours, by running fewer buses or trains and perhaps shorter trains as well. But their ability to adjust is limited. A bus or rail car has a fixed number of seats. Shortening or lengthening trains several times a day can cost more than is saved by running shorter trains. In most cities, bus drivers and train operators are paid for an eight-hour shift, whether they are working or not. And off-peak service must be provided, for commuters who have to get home early, people who work non-standard hours and the wide variety of non-commuting transit trips.

If total ridership is averaged over the number of hours transit is provided, the average may appear low – even though the trains and buses are full to bursting during the morning and afternoon rushes. But even if we compare averages, transit still comes out ahead – dramatically so, if we look at passenger miles per vehicle mile. Both heavy and light rail fill double the percentage of seats that automobiles used in commuting fill, and generate 20 times as many passenger miles per vehicle mile.