Xpress bus, missed opportunities

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

A county official says the Georgia General Assembly showed lack of leadership this year in declining to move on proposed bills that would have allowed counties to fund transportation projects. One thing Gov. Nathan Deal and legislators did do, however, was extend $8.1 million in funding for the Xpress bus service, managed by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. GRTA’s board chairman explains why that’s a good move.

Commenting is open below.

Legislature ignores good funding ideas

By Steve Brown

When the Transportation Investment Act (also known as T-SPLOST) referendum failed last July, voters expressed their extreme disappointment and mistrust of the state Legislature. The latest attempt at ethics reform, complete with king-sized exemptions for lobbyists, will do little to restore public trust.

Sen. Josh McKoon deserves a pat on the back for attempting to tame a group of legislators who flourish on free expensive dinners, trips to resorts, sports tickets, golf outings and generous helpings of booze. The citizens are paying attention.

After T-SPLOST was soundly defeated, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told us more chairs would be added around the transportation table, and the process would be more inclusive. It now appears the invitation has been withdrawn almost as if we are being punished for not supporting a poorly constructed transportation package.

Many T-SPLOST opponents were hoping for substantive change in this year’s General Assembly on how we do transportation.

Unfortunately, state political and business leaders chose not to do anything at all.

To make matters worse, Sen. John Albers’ SB 73 was marked “dead on arrival.” This bill would have eliminated the 30 percent T-SPLOST penalty — the requirement for an increased local match for road funds in regions that failed to pass T-SPLOST. I cannot imagine a better way to antagonize metro voters than to continue to punish them for voting in a state-mandated referendum.

Rep. Ed Setzler’s HB 195 was widely supported by transportation advocates, allowing for special districts to be formed through intergovernmental agreement of two or more counties whose boundaries are contiguous. This innovative approach would have enabled the dense urban core counties to form their own “region” and facilitate mass transit projects.

Many are amazed HB 195 could not get off the ground, because it provided core-county transit opportunities without the financial burden falling on the outer ring of less dense suburban counties. Likewise, the outer counties would have been allowed to participate in road projects with neighboring counties outside the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Another blow to innovative transportation funding was the lack of movement on Sen. Judson Hill’s SB 99 and Rep. John Carson’s HB 153 advocating for fractional sales taxes. Combined with HB 195, counties could join sub-regionally and raise the precise amount of tax revenue needed to construct various road or transit projects. A county could have multiple agreements and still not exceed a 1 percent sales tax increase. Again, the Legislature refused to let a good idea get in their way.

The lack of action by political and business leaders eliminated ways to resolve our transportation challenges. Metro Atlanta commuters were the biggest losers.

While we endure financial penalties for voting our conscience, state political leaders tell us they are taking their ball and going home. They tell us it is their way or no way at all.

Public trust in our leadership has further eroded.

Steve Brown is chairman of the Fayette County Commission and spokesman for the Transportation Leadership Coalition.

State gets behind Xpress bus service

By Sonny Deriso

As someone who works in the financial industry, I see every day the impact that return on investment has on the decisions people make. Getting a positive return on our money drives decisions we make in business as well as in our personal lives. And just as we have to prioritize our own dollars, the state of Georgia must be strategic in how it invests in transportation, focusing on outcomes that will reduce congestion and keep our state economically viable.

One strategy that has demonstrated success in metro Atlanta has been the Xpress Commuter Coach Service, operated by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA).

Xpress began nine years ago as a partnership of the state and metro Atlanta counties. It has since grown to become a key part of the region’s transportation network, giving commuters throughout metro Atlanta a valuable transportation option. Our 33 routes carry more than 2 million passenger trips annually, providing workers from nearly 40 counties with reliable, stress-free commutes directly to and from Atlanta’s largest employment centers.

Thanks to Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly, the state reaffirmed its commitment to Xpress during this year’s Legislative session, providing funding in the state budget to allow the service to continue operating. We are very grateful to the governor for his leadership; and we appreciate the speaker, lieutenant governor and members of the General Assembly for their willingness to keep this important service running, especially in a time new funding is rare. Their support for Xpress demonstrates that our state leaders are providing solutions to address Georgia’s transportation needs.

The benefits of Xpress go beyond those for commuters who choose to ride the bus every day. Taking their cars off the interstates adds additional, “virtual” capacity to Georgia’s most congested highways for commuters who drive. And the benefits aren’t localized in any one corridor. Everyone who travels on metro Atlanta’s busy interstates during rush hour has a little easier trip because those buses are running.

In fact, Xpress saves metro Atlanta’s commuters and commercial trucks more than $140 million a year in time and fuel that would otherwise be wasted sitting in congestion. These savings, combined with the low cost of operating the Xpress service, translate into a return on investment of more than 4 to 1.

Governor Deal’s strategic goals for a Mobile Georgia call for improving the movement of people and goods across the state by using our limited resources to make Georgia’s transportation network more reliable and better performing. Xpress has been shown to be a cost-effective strategy to help the state address that goal.

Our focus at GRTA will be to remain good stewards of the responsibility entrusted to us, and to operate Xpress in a manner that supports the governor’s goals and the state’s transportation strategy. It will be our goal to ensure that Xpress continues to enhance Georgia’s economic competitiveness and provide a positive return on the taxpayers’ investment.

Sonny Deriso, board chairman of Atlantic Capital Bank, is the chairman of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Board of Directors.

11 comments Add your comment

Mr. Keeping It Real

April 24th, 2013
1:09 pm

I can’t tell you how WONDERFUL it has been to go to Turner Field these first couple weeks of the baseball season and not have to navigate those annoying, jive-talking street vendors who take up 3/4 of the sidewalk as we had to do in years past.

For once, the normally-inept City of Atlanta got something right.

Go peddle your tacky, unwanted wares elsewhere, Terrell and Laquisha!