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


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.



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

(Capital + operations)








Fare Revenue









Local Funds









State Funds









Federal Funds


















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

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

Entry Number


Funding Amount


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)

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.


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.

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.

Sen. Stoner comments on GRTA Xpress

At Thurday's roundtable meeting, Henry County Commission Chairwoman B.J. Mathis asked State Sen. Doug Stoner to comment on the state of GRTA Xpress. Several roundtable members expressed concern about continuing to provide GRTA Xpress service to suburban commters.

Worthan’s amendment raises concerns about regional vision

Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan outlines the details and reasoning for his motion at the Oct. 6 Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable meeting. Worthan’s proposed amendment evoked a strong response from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who worries that the executive committee’s transportation vision may be unraveling. Worthan proposes to bolster funding for GRTA Xpress at the expense of MARTA state-of-good-repair.

Cumberland light rail line to fund Cobb road improvements, premium bus service

At last week’s roundtable meeting, Cobb County Commission Chairman signaled his intent to introduce an amendment for discussion at the Oct. 6 roundtable meeting. However, prior to the Oct. 6 meeting, Lee and Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews offered a revised version of the amendment, which proposes reducing the scope of the proposed Cumberland light rail line and adding premium bus service for Cobb County commuters. Read more in the Marietta Daily Journal.

Mayor Kasim Reed asks, “Really?!”

At this morning’s roundtable meeting, the conversation about GRTA prompted Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to comment on the roundtable’s priorities. Read more in the SaportaReport.

Christman delivers comments to roundtable

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman reminds the roundtable that TIA funds represent only a portion of expected spending on transportation over the next 10 years.

Raymond Christman – Comments to the Atlanta Regional Roundtable, Oct. 6, 2011

Good morning and thank you for this opportunity to make comments on behalf of the Fair Share for Transit Coalition.

As I stated at last week’s meeting, we believe that the Roundtable has done a tremendous job in developing a strong, diverse and well-balance draft project list.  Now we are in the final stages of considering amendments to that list and, understandably, emotions run high as the final opportunity comes about to secure funding for a particular project.

Given the introduction of some nine amendments, we believe, as I’m sure others do, that we have the responsibility to our supporters to make comments and provide input.  Our specific comments are provided in the letter that I sent to you on Tuesday, a copy of which is being distributed today.

There is no need for me to reiterate any of this in my public comments today, but I would like to draw your attention to several core issues which we believe are important for you to consider as you act today:

  1. First, we believe that a number of these amendments, as written, serve to divide rather than unite all of us in support of better transportation for the region. Take Amendment 10, for example.  Do we support more funding to expand GRTA Xpress bus service in the region?  Of course. But do we support achieving that by reducing funding for the Atlanta Beltline, the Clifton Corridor, and the Northwest Corridor.  No, we do not believe that is the way to accomplish that goal.  The same comment could be made of many of the other amendments;
  1. Second, we urge you to keep in mind the total financial requirements — both operating and capital — for these large-scale transit projects.  We urge you not to unduly shave dollars from these projects at the 11th hour to fund other needs, thereby weakening the region’s ability to deliver these projects as proposed;
  1. And, third, please also continue to keep in mind that TIA represents just a portion – a significant portion, but still just a portion — of the total transportation spend for the region over the next ten years.  As Jane Hayse reported to you last week, the region is projected to have $18 billion to spend on transportation over ten years, including the $6.14 the Roundtable is acting on today.  In this context, if faced with a difficult choice between two worthy projects, we again urge you to particularly support the ones that can be funded no other way than through TIA, and allow other local, state, federal funding sources cover some or all of the costs of others.

Thank you for this opportunity to make these comments, and thank you again for your service to the region.

Fair Share for Transit responds to proposed amendments

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

A message from Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman:

October 4, 2011

To members of the Metro Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable:

The purpose of this letter is to share with you on behalf of the 86 member organizations of the Fair Share for Transit Initiative our comments on the amendments to the project list that were submitted to the Regional Roundtable.  We appreciate the open and transparent process maintained by the Roundtable, and the opportunity to provide input.

Our comments are as follows:

  1. Amendments 03 – Parker Road and Northwest Transit —  We oppose this proposed reallocation of $5 million in much needed funding for the Northwest Transit project to support a local road improvement in Rockdale County.
  2. Amendment 04 – Sigman Road and Northwest Corridor Transit — We oppose this proposed reallocation of $10 million of much needed funding for the Northwest Corridor transit project to support a local road project in Rockdale County.
  3. Amendment 05 – Northwest Corridor and Multiple Cobb Projects — We would strongly prefer to see the proposed funding for light rail development (Project No. TIA-CO-035) in Cobb County remain at its originally proposed level, but we also recognize the county’s leadership is attempting to balance competing priorities. And we recognize that while the amendment will shift $271 million from the light rail project, it will also invest $110 million in providing additional much needed Cobb County Transit Xpress Bus Service in the underserved northwest portion of the county.  Further, while we understand that there are good reasons to believe that this light rail project will successfully compete for future federal funding that will allow it to be built as planned, the absence of full local funding for this project creates uncertainties and risks.
  4. Amendment 06 – Commuter Rail and Multiple Clayton Projects  —    We support the proposal to direct  $20 million of  funding in Clayton County for planning and engineering work associated with the Griffin commuter rail line (Project No. TIA-CL-002).  Clayton officials have consistently been focused on the need to develop the Griffin commuter line to facilitate easier access to its neighbors. Such connectivity is essential if the region is to prosper as a whole.  While this funding is clearly inadequate to fully build out this project, it provides valuable seed capital that can help this project continue to move forward as it seeks other funding support.
  5. Amendment 07 – I-20 East Transit and SR 400 — We strongly support the proposal to shift funding from State Route 400 projects (TIA-AR-030 and TIA-FN-014)) to develop MARTA’s rail service east along I-20 (TIA-M-023).The SR 400 projects, while very important,  have access to other funding sources,  unlike transit projects like I-20 East.  Furthermore, the I-20 rail extension has been a top regional priority for years.
  6. Amendments 09 – Douglas, Xpress, and other Regional Projects– We are strongly opposed to this amendment, which is both confusing and counter-productive for good regional transportation policy.  First, this amendment would reduce funding for much needed MARTA state-of-good-repair support by $34.5 million, and reallocate this funding to the existing GRTA Xpress bus system.  Second, this proposal appears to attempt to shift (funding) responsibility for specific existing GRTA routes from GRTA to CCT, GCT, and MARTA.,
    • Our opposition to these amendments are in no way related to lack of support for GRTA Xpress bus service.  This service is essential for the region and needs to expand, not contract.  But the region should not be weakening one set of transit projects or providers to help another.  Further, GRTA, as a state-created agency, should be supported by state funding, not local taxes.  The purpose of the TIA was not to help state government transfer its transportation funding responsibilities to local governments in the region.  As a matter of good public policy, the state should meet its funding obligations to GRTA and allow scarce TIA funds to be used to support other worthy projects.
    • Further, the shifting of funding responsibility for certain GRTA routes from GRTA to other transit providers seems to us to be the kind of governance and system integration issue that should not be decided through Regional Roundtable financial horse-trading, but in another forum where the best regional transit service delivery decisions can be made.
  7. Amendment 10 – Xpress and other Regional Projects – We are also strongly opposed to this proposal, which would significantly diminish funding to the three key proposed rail projects:  the Atlanta Beltline Streetcar circulator, the Northwest Corridor transit line, and the Clifton Corridor project.  Each of these projects has seen their funding cut through previous Roundtable deliberations (and the Northwest Corridor funding would be significantly reduced as well by Amendment 05, to be considered by this Roundtable).
    • Again, our motivation is in no way directed by opposition to GRTA Xpress bus service.  But robbing one set of transit projects to support another transit service solves no larger regional problem nor ultimately expands regional transit service.

We have no comments with respect to Amendments 08 and 11.

We all share the belief that a robust transportation system is required if Atlanta wants to remain the economic capital of the Southeast, and we applaud the roundtable in recognizing the importance of significantly expanding public transit to enable the region to move toward a 21st century system.

Transit investment remains a crucial element in attracting and developing new business. For each dollar invested, transit projects return $8 in economic benefits.

In addition, expanding transit options provides much-needed congestion relief and better air quality, improving the lives of countless residents and assuring a seamless internal transportation system for commerce.  Fifty-seven percent of respondents to a recent AJC poll said that the current proposed breakdown in the draft project list of 55 percent transit vs. 45 percent for roads was a good balance, and Fifty-one percent of metro voters would support the referendum, with its current project mix, if it were held today.

We are confident that the full Roundtable will approve a final project list that is strong, diverse, and well balanced.  We appreciate the opportunity to provide these comments.


Raymond Christman
Executive Director
Livable Communities Coalition

Anti-transit myth #5: Buses are better than rail

[AUDIO] Some in Cobb County have questioned the presence of the proposed Cumberland light rail line, instead arguing for other options that could include enhanced commuter bus service to employment centers. At Wednesday’s roundtable meeting, Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee announced the county’s intent to submit an amendment to reduce potential funding for the proposed light rail line.

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

Myth 5: Where transit is needed, buses are better than rail. Buses cost less and provide the same or better service.

Lind visited Atlanta in June to help metro Atlanta make the conservative case for transit. The Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable's draft project list outlines a significant transit vision with 55 percent of the projects being transit projects. The full 21-member roundtable will submit a final project list by the Oct. 15 deadline.

Buses and rail transit are at least as different as apples and oranges. With a few exceptions, they serve different purposes and different people – so different that it may be more of a hindrance than a help to lump them together as “public transit.” In
general, buses serve the purpose of providing mobility to people who have no car or cannot drive – the transit dependent. Rail transit serves the purpose of reducing traffic by drawing to transit riders from choice, people who have cars and can drive if they choose to do so.

So why do the anti-transit troubadours always tell us to stick with buses and not build rail? Well, if the objective is to keep people in their cars, that is a pretty good prescription.

Let’s look at a few of the transit critics’ more specific objections to rail:

  • The content that buses are more “flexible” because bus routes can be moved virtually overnight while train track are in a fixed place. This is true. But it turns out to be one of the advantages of rail, not a disadvantage. One of the more important purposes of any infrastructure is to spur and channel development. Bus transit has no effect on development, precisely because of its here-today-and-gone-tomorrow “flexibility.” No developer can count on its being there once his building is completed. Rail transit, on the other hand, is a major spur to development, because once it is there, it is there for the long term. A developer may buy land, erect a building and get tenants, knowing that those tenants will still have rail transit service next week, next month, next year and next decade.
  • The critics also claim that buses cost less than rail. This is true of capital costs, but not of operating costs. In St. Louis, light rail had an operating cost per passenger mile in FY 1995 of 22 cents compared to 68 cents for buses, a cost per passenger trip of $1.18 compared to $2.31 for buses, and a farebox recovery ratio (FY 1997) of 41.8 percent compared to 20.3 percent for buses. In Portland, Oregon, the operating cost per boarding passenger is $1.67 for buses, $1.40 for light rail. In Dallas, the operating cost per passenger mile of the DART light rail system is just 60 percent of that of buses. On a nationwide basis, the latest figures, from the Federal Transit Administration 1999 “National Transit Database,” show the operating cost of light rail as 45 cents per passenger mil, compared to 55 cents for buses.
  • Another assertion by the critics is that buses on dedicated rights-of-way – busways or HOV lanes – are better than light rail. In actual experience, buses on busways do not compete effectively with rail transit, at least in the minds of potential riders.

In one city after another, light rail has shown that it can draw a great many riders from choice who would never board a bus. The same is true for commuter rail. The anti-transit troubadors dislike rail transit not because it doesn’t work, but because it does.

Guest blog: Danger lurks unless Atlanta builds a transit vision

In this multimedia release, readers may click on the links or the media players to hear excerpts from the joint press event. Above, Environment Georgia’s Jennette Gayer and Mothers & Others for Clean Air’s Rebecca Watts Hull respond to WABE reporter Michelle Wirth’s question.

Atlanta’s 2011 “smog season” was a pretty bad one by any measure. This year Atlanta had 39 ozone violations, or days when ozone concentrations exceeded the 2008 ozone limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under George W. Bush.

The Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University is conducting a study to measure the impact of traffic-related pollution on individuals in their cars. Preliminary results show rapid changes in lung inflammation occurring immediately following car commutes.

Thirty-nine violations are bad enough, but the real public health tally is actually much worse. EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), the group charged with making science-based recommendations to EPA on air quality standards, unanimously concluded that the limit for ozone should be significantly lowered. After several delays, in July EPA submitted its recommendation for a stronger standard to the White House. On Sept. 2, public health scientists and advocates were dismayed when President Obama announced that he would not consider the recommendation at this time, postponing a stronger standard for several years at least.

This decision has significant public health consequences in two ways. One, it means that Atlanta’s smog forecast system will continue to issue alerts and assign colors (green, yellow, orange or red) based on an outdated standard. As a result, on many days parents, coaches, and athletes will check the forecast and conclude an outdoor workout is safe, when in fact, the science indicates that outdoor workouts during peak ozone times should be limited.

What does this mean for Atlanta’s 2011 smog season numbers? If we use the least protective limit recommended by CASAC instead of the current limit, Atlanta actually experienced 65 smog alert days this summer. The delay in adjusting the ozone standard undermines efforts to effectively communicate risk to the public and to advocate precautions to reduce exposure.

Second, delays undermine the regulatory impact of the ozone standard. The purpose of setting health-based standards is to ensure that areas with unhealthy concentrations of air pollution take steps to improve air quality within a reasonable time frame. Since EPA expected the 2008 limit would be revised, it is only just now beginning to issue rules for states to meet that standard. It will be several years before the 2008 decision results in emissions-cutting measures in Atlanta, and even longer before we begin working toward the lower target recommended by CASAC.

What difference does it make, and to whom? The acute effects for people living with asthma and other respiratory problems may be easy to see, but ozone also is associated with widespread and less visible, chronic health problems. In addition to causing asthma attacks, shortness of breath and wheezing, ozone can cause long-term damage, reducing lung function in otherwise healthy children and youth. The health costs of acute and chronic conditions associated with ozone pollution are estimated in the billions, and there also are significant economic and quality of life consequences resulting from school absences and lost work productivity.

While the Obama administration’s decision is certainly a disappointment for public health scientists and anyone concerned about urban air pollution, it is not a time to give up. While many health hazards are largely out of our control, we know how to reduce ozone pollution. The proposed Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) project list provides an excellent opportunity for Atlanta leaders and voters to reduce vehicle emissions. If approved, this tax would provide a significant investment both in the existing transit system and in expansions to that system. The new projects together are estimated to attract tens of thousands of new transit riders, reducing road emissions responsible for roughly half of Atlanta’s ozone problem.

Every September in Atlanta we take stock and review the summer’s “smog alert” days, as we near the end of ozone season. It is time for Atlanta’s leaders and voters to choose to reach the “end of smog,” not just the “end of smog season.”

Rebecca Watts Hull is Director of Mothers & Others for Clean Air, an Atlanta-based education and advocacy nonprofit engaging parents, health care professionals and other concerned citizens in clean air initiatives and advocacy. More information at

Jeremy Sarnat is an Associate Professor of Environmental Health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

In the news:

Atlantans deserve clean air, but on far too many days children and seniors in Georgia and the Atlanta area and across Georgia are exposed to dangerous smog pollution.” – Environment Georgia policy advocate Jennette Gayer on WABE.

In Virginia Highland-Druid Hills Patch: Mother & Others for Clean Air steering committee member Jeremy Sarnat writes it’s about Getting to ‘End of Smog,’ not End of ‘Smog Season.’

Southeast Green runs OpEd urging a proactive approach to mitigating metro Atlanta’s smog problem.