Flex transportation enough of a start?

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Flexibility and collaboration on small strategic projects will be key as the region seeks to upgrade transit and transportation with minimal funding. Today, we hear from a Cobb County official who welcomes a new flex bus route and urges residents to give input. A GDOT leader looks at the bigger picture, saying it’s time to deliver real solutions working with what we’ve got.

Commenting is open below.

Flex bus service a small step forward

By Lisa Cupid

Movement is a hallmark of life. So when two of Cobb County’s transit routes were cut in 2011, it was little surprise that families were upended.

One gentleman now walks for an hour to get to the nearest bus stop, so the bus can take him another 90 minutes to work. One way.

Another woman with acute asthma walks at least four miles to get medical treatment.

A young mother must now walk at least one mile, with children in tow, to buy groceries at the nearest mini-mart.

What’s disturbing is that some persons who moved to Cobb are stranded because they believed that transit in Cobb was stable. The dim reality is that persons dependent on transit represent a class of persons that some in Cobb deem unworthy of sympathy, or at least a government handout, for a service largely recognized for not paying for itself.

I have yet to see a highway, library or park that pays for itself, yet there is a large perception that transit should.

Our transit riders are not a homogeneous cohort. We have college students who must get to class; seniors who want to run errands with some independence, and commuters — even some professionals — who want to save money on gas or parking, or at least eliminate the stress of driving.

But when transit is cut, it hurts our most vulnerable the most.

The two routes cut in South Cobb traveled through some of the county’s most challenged areas. While the routes were cut for having low ridership, these particular routes served people with some of the greatest need.

The impact of losing transit in some communities warrants a different analysis for considering the strength of transit for the community and for Cobb. You could hypothesize that loss of transit will result in even higher unemployment, more blight and poorer access to food, education and medical services. Such outcomes could put greater burdens on code enforcement, public safety and schools.

Cobb leadership is now considering adding flexible transit routes to help reduce some of the unmet needs of the two lost routes. A flexible bus transit route travels a fixed route with the flexibility to pick up riders at non-fixed locations on demand.

The ability to provide residents with even a loose semblance of the routes once in place is encouraging. My observation is that Cobb’s transportation division wants to get this right and ensure the new route is sustainable.

Flexible bus service in Cobb can set a standard in how to justify and deliver transit, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and not just in its implementation, but in its formation. We need residents to get involved. Mobilizing residents may be the boost needed to jump-start communities that draw life from transit.

Lisa Cupid is a Cobb County Commissioner representing District 4 in Southwest Cobb.

Metro leaders must deliver solutions

By Dana Lemon

We all know and accept that providing a full range of transportation options and alternatives is one of the hallmarks of a successful state. Great transportation is the base for positive economic and social opportunities for all who live there. Helping provide those services is a traditional role of government that becomes even more vital every day.

In the Atlanta metropolitan area, we have several bus and transit services, but what we lack is the coordination between the entities delivering those services. The people, the riders, truly suffer from the lack of integrated services and options that do not fully meet the existing needs of the community.

We need to embrace innovation as a key to developing a “big picture” plan for our region’s transportation. Coordination and communication needs to start at the top with our influencers so diverse organizations can move toward providing coordinated services and routes that make sense and move seamlessly for riders.

Through its Leadership Involvement Networking and Knowledge program, the Atlanta Regional Commission takes leaders to key regions to experience firsthand what that area is accomplishing and what the Atlanta area can borrow. I was part of the most recent trip to the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area. The area is a great example of various entities coming to together and providing transportation options integrated between counties and other units of government. We saw that this type of amalgamated service is not only possible, but fundamental to successfully addressing the community’s needs for mobility.

Making changes and moving in a different path takes strong leaders, and Atlanta has a number of them up to the task. However, bringing them together to focus on multi-modal transportation options is not enough; we must move toward implementation. Local leaders have already proven they can come together, represent disparate constituents and still work together to present a unified voice. We must take that next step to deliver a working solution.

Visiting other major urban areas and seeing the success they have had providing seamless services is extremely motivating for me. Atlanta benefits from all the lessons learned by those who have already accomplished the task, and we know there is room for all stakeholders in this process. Establishing a seamless system does not have to mean abolishing operators, but it does mean we must coordinate operations for success.

We took a few steps in the right direction this year, including increasing the financial commitment to Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) and Cobb County’s reinstatement of some bus service lines that had been cut. But these are small steps, and all organizations involved in transportation planning and implementation must build off these with a greater sense of urgency. We must work together for comprehensive regional coordination, and provide residents with a system that offers convenience and connectivity.

Dana Lemon is a board member of the Georgia Department of Transportation representing the 13th Congressional District.

13 comments Add your comment

The Last Democrat in Georgia

April 17th, 2013
4:15 am

@ Cobb County Commissioner Lisa Cupid:

{{”The dim reality is that persons dependent on transit represent a class of persons that some in Cobb deem unworthy of sympathy, or at least a government handout, for a service largely recognized for not paying for itself.”}}

Given Cobb County’s notable history of ultraconservative politics, that type of sentiment against publicly-subsidized transit and the people that may be dependent upon it is not the least bit surprising.

Some people in Cobb County believe that the presence of public transit in the county enables low-income undesirables to move into, live in and bring down the quality-of-life a county that they still view as being an exclusive outer-suburban enclave for ultraconservative affluent whites.

{{”I have yet to see a highway, library or park that pays for itself, yet there is a large perception that transit should.”}}

…It’s not necessarily fair that transit is expected to pay for itself while roads are not, but that is the overwhelming political reality that you are dealing with at the moment.

In light of the persistent and domineering anti-transit sentiment in Cobb County politics, a good place to start to increase transit funding would be along Cobb Parkway where Cobb Community Transit routes 10 & 45 operate (CCT routes 10 & 45 are supposedly two of the most-popular local routes in the CCT system).

Cobb Parkway is also a corridor that has been targeted for some type of future rail transit service in the form of light rail or streetcar service as a way of fostering increased high-density transit-oriented development over the long-term.

Because of Cobb Parkway’s status as a right-of-way that is targeted for future rail transit service and high-density development, consider using Tax Increment Financing (property tax revenues from new development that pops up along the projected route of the future rail transit line) to help fund a transition from bus service to rail transit service, if rail transit service is indeed seriously-desired over the long-run on Cobb Parkway.

Also consider switching from a flat-rate one-way fare-collection structure to a distance-based per-mile fare-collection structure of between $0.15-$0.40 per-mile and automatically peg fare rates to inflation so that close to 80% of the cost of operations & maintenance are always covered by fares.

Cover the other 20% of the cost of operations & maintenance with revenue streams from Tax Increment Financing (property tax revenues from new development that pops up along transit lines), private investment (lease some lines out to private operators in return for either an upfront lump-sum payment or yearly or monthly payments) and real estate transactions (leasing land out for transit-oriented development).

Take the funding concepts of the distance-based fare-collection structure and apply them to all routes, local and express, throughout the rest of the system.

Take the funding concepts of Tax Increment Financing and real estate transactional financing and apply them to funding regional commuter rail service in the freight rail right-of-way that have been targeted for regional passenger train service in the future (the north-south CSX (old-Western & Atlantic) freight rail right-of-way that parallels I-75 between Vinings and Acworth, the north-south Georgia Northeastern Railroad right-of-way that parallels I-575 between Marietta and Woodstock, the east-west Norfolk Southern freight rail right-of-ways that run parallel to Highways 78-278-8 & 278-6 through the southern end of the county).

Take the funding concepts of real estate transactional funding and apply it wherever possible, particularly along rail transit lines and around rail transit stations.

Whatever you do, get as far away from the traditional concept of advocating for sales tax and fuel tax increases as they are political losers in this political climate that is thoroughly-dominated by staunchly anti-tax forces.

Also make sure that you get the support of Republican lawmakers at the local, regional, state and even federal levels if needed by using the hook of “SELF-FINANCED and SELF-FUNDED TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE IN WHICH NO TAX INCREASES ARE NEEDED” as you will not be able to advance any type of idea without the help and support of Republicans in this political climate in which Republicans currently dominate at the local, regional and state levels.

When trying to advance the expansion of transit, make sure to always play-up the concept of SELF-FUNDED transit infrastructure otherwise, you won’t get any support from government, tax and transit-averse conservatives and you won’t have enough support to advance your ideas at the local, regional and state levels in Cobb County.

At this point in Georgia politics where Democrats are a virtual superminority in state government, having the support of those in the dominant Georgia Republican Party is a must, so be aggressive in partnering with Republicans to get things done, otherwise you will be completely ignored and even severely-derided in some conservative circles.

The Last Democrat in Georgia

April 17th, 2013
2:32 am

Logical Dude

April 16th, 2013
2:30 pm

{{”I mean, how many studies do we need before we actually expand MARTA, Buses, etc?”}}

…At least like a ZILLION.

Because any expansion of MARTA in its current form will never be accepted outside of Fulton and DeKalb counties, particularly if a MARTA expansion requires the implementation of a politically-unfeasible sales tax increase to fund it.

MARTA expansion will never be accepted in Cobb and Gwinnett counties of the shrinking but loud anti-transit factions that still dominate those counties’ governments.

And while not necessarily being as hard of a sell in Clayton County as it is in Cobb and Gwinnett counties, MARTA expansion will also likely not be accepted in Clayton County because the county’s higher-income residents think that public transportation has made the county too attractive to lower-income residents…which is the REAL reason that Clayton County discontinued bus service.

The Last Democrat in Georgia

April 17th, 2013
2:16 am

Road Scholar

April 16th, 2013
7:03 am

Implementing a regional revenue stream to fund the expansion and operation of transit beyond Fulton and DeKalb counties is an excellent idea.

Using GRTA as the central coordinating entity to make transit seamless in planning and operations for the entire region is also an excellent idea.

Increasing the state’s gas tax and adjusting it to inflation is also a very-good idea on its face.

The only problem is that even the suggestion or mere mention of an increase in the state’s clearly-inadequate gas tax is political suicide for any politician foolish enough to suggest it in this volatile political climate that is completely-dominated by small-government and anti-tax ultraconservatives and Tea Partiers at the regional and statewide levels.

And any OTP politician that suggests that the state’s gas tax be increased to fund transit outside of I-285 likely has a death wish in this current political environment in which staunchly anti-transit factions completely dominate the state’s political scene.

If we are going to finance critically-needed upgrades and expansions to the region’s substandard transit offerings, we are going to have to be able to do it without the use of politically-unfeasible increases to sales taxes and fuel taxes.