GRTA funding a good thing?

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed that the state spend about $8 million this year to fund the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority’s Xpress bus service, which serves long-haul commuters in metro Atlanta. That’s an encouraging sign, writes a Georgia Department of Transportation official. A transit advocate agrees, but says the state should do more than fund one system over all others.

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State funding GRTA bus is a good move

By Johnny Floyd

This year, Governor Deal proposed utilizing part of the state’s budget to fund the operations of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) in running its Xpress Service in metro Atlanta. The State Transportation Board strongly supports this initiative.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has worked with GRTA since its inception helping remove thousands of vehicles from the roads during peak hours. Savings in lost fuel and productivity now total more than $140 million annually for the region’s commuters and commercial trucks.

The continued growth in ridership on GRTA’s routes prove both the need for the service and its success. Many routes are standing-room only, and park-and-ride lotsfill to capacity. In 2012, GRTA Xpress had more than 2.4 million boardings and took 1.5 million vehicles off metro area roads. Providing a commute alternative helps to ensure that Georgia’s business community can access the best employees within the key 40-minute radius. Access to quality employees continually ranks as a central need for industry, and transit services like GRTA positively impact the economic development efforts of the state.

Georgia DOT supports initiatives to reduce congestion, including transit, carpools, vanpools, walking, bicycling and teleworking. We encourage commuters to consider options through many programs, and we fund the successful Clean Air Campaign (now Georgia Commute Options). We encourage commuters to consider options through many programs. The GRTA Xpress service is a valuable component of the state’s efforts to improve mobility, and the benefit of providing funds to continue this service outweighs the dollar costs.

This department and GRTA have a long relationship of cooperation and cohesion to provide transportation alternatives that not only allow for more reliable trip times, but also successfully eliminate thousands of vehicles a day from the roadways by serving riders from 40 counties with 33 routes. More than $70 million has been invested in motor coaches and new park-and-ride lots to accommodate the growth. These efforts are complemented by the managed lanes planned on major routes throughout the metro area. New locations are being worked on each year, and transit vehicles are able to utilize the express lanes at no charge.

Raising the state’s investment in transportation alternatives opens the road for more citizens to take advantage of these options. The need for transit services from organizations like GRTA is well documented, and the ridership confirms it. Georgia needs more services, not less, so providing funds to support GRTA operations is central to the overall goal of reducing congestion and the number of vehicles on Georgia’s roads each day.

The state general fund receives $190 million annually from 1 percent of state motor fuel tax collections — tax dollars paid by those using the roadways. This is more than adequate to cover the funding needs of GRTA each year. Allowing GRTA to receive these funds is a prudent choice and a positive for future economic development efforts.

Johnny Floyd is chairman of the State Transportation Board.

Don’t favor one system over others

By Ashley Robbins

The legislative proposal for the state to continue multi-million-dollar support of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority’s Xpress bus operations serving metro Atlanta, is an important step. Yet it is a bittersweet victory for transit advocates.

Undeniably, the GRTA Xpress bus is a crucial service that the metro region must have, and we should ensure its continued operations. But it tends to serve an affluent community where many have cars and other options for transportation.

What about the other 125 urban, suburban and rural transit agencies where citizens rely on public transportation every day? What about the student in Savannah trying to use Chatham Area Transit (CAT) to get to SCAD? Or the office worker trying to get to a job in the Perimeter on MARTA? Or the Army private trying to get to Fort Gordon in Augusta using Augusta Public Transit? Or the grandmother trying to get to a doctor’s appointment in Tifton?

The state choosing to fund one transit system above any other is like saying that these customers, and voters, don’t merit the same resources as regional express bus riders in Atlanta.

There are people who rely on transit services all across Georgia. What our state needs is a designated program to equitably fund transit operations statewide. A formula-funding program based on ridership, the amount of services provided and other factors could ensure that all Georgians get a fair share of state funding for bus, rail and on-demand services.

If Georgia intends to fund transit operations, even at a small level, it should be implemented in a thoughtful way statewide, not just in Atlanta and not just for one transit agency. Such a transit-operations program could be structured similarly to the formula used to appropriate state highway dollars. This would give the state a mechanism to legitimately influence transit policy at the local level by adding strings to the funding. When the state comes to the table with transit-operating resources, it will create a justifiable process for interjecting itself into transit policy.

Many Georgians aren’t aware of the transit services provided across the state, and that their existence is vital to our economic health. That’s why Georgians for Better Transit is joining with riders, transit workers and community advocates to fight for transit-operations funding in a real way, ensuring equity in the process statewide. We want to use the legislative appropriations process to fund all transit systems in Georgia, not just one system serving one type of rider in one region.

Let’s work to find sustainable, long-term and equitable funding for transit across the entire state. And let’s hope that Governor Deal’s commitment to the permanent funding of GRTA operations is a sign that the state’s views on transit funding are changing, and we can look forward to a growing contribution in the future.

Ashley Robbins is campaign director for Georgians for Better Transit.

11 comments Add your comment


March 13th, 2013
10:08 am

Would you guys stop it with the “empty bus” thing! It simply is not true! The deadheads/reverse commutes back to make another loaded trip are empty – just like the MARTA trains are nearly empty running against the rush hour flow.

GRTA’s operating budget is about 15X less that MARTAs. Farebox recovery is about the same for both (about 30%). They are being held to the same standard.