MARTA’s line to Cobb

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

I live about 50 yards from a MARTA bus stop, enabling me to conveniently catch a ride on the #12 bus when I need to. As it turns out, the route also serves Cobb County; the northbound leg ends not far from where the new Braves stadium will be built. My column today focuses on the origins of this minor MARTA move into Cobb and what it might mean for the future. Our second column disputes figures used to bolster the popular cars-to-transit trend in major cities.

Commenting is open.

The seed of future collaboration?

By Tom Sabulis

I took MARTA to the new Braves stadium in Cobb County the other day.

I got on the #12 bus in Midtown and rode up Northside Drive to Cobb Parkway and Cumberland Mall. True, the stadium is still on the drawing board. It doesn’t exist yet. But when Cobb’s field of taxpayer dreams is finished in time for the 2017 baseball season, assuming things remains the same, the northbound terminus of MARTA’s #12 bus, at the Cumberland Transfer Center, won’t be that far from the new park — a short hike away, unless they adjust the route and make the drop-off point more convenient to the stadium’s doorstep.

Will Atlantans and anyone south of the city use that bus to go ballgames? Who knows?

Perhaps the bigger question is, what is MARTA doing servicing Cobb County? Like other core metro Atlanta counties not named Fulton and DeKalb, Cobb opted out of levying a sales tax decades ago to join the transit system. If you don’t pay, you shouldn’t play, right? You shouldn’t get service.

Still, since 2006, MARTA and Cobb have had a little-known “Service Coordination Agreement” that allows MARTA’s #12 bus to cross the Chatahoochee River, make stops on Cobb Parkway and serve Cumberland Mall, where it turns around and heads back to the Midtown MARTA train station. Cobb County Transit provides MARTA with a bus bay and signage at the transfer center. In return, CCT buses may use MARTA stops south of the county line to Mount Paran Road, where they enter I-75 and connect at MARTA train stations in town.

According to the agreement, the Cobb-MARTA relationship, extended in 2009, is “to provide for greater mobility, more efficient and effective service delivery, and seamless transportation between the respective service areas.”

Imagine that. For years, we’ve heard inflammatory political rhetoric about MARTA, about how it will ferry undesirables, a criminal element, to the suburbs. The anti-MARTA references continue. Last month, Cobb County Republican Chairman Joe Dendy said transportation improvements for the new stadium should prioritize moving cars in and around Cobb from surrounding counties to the north and east where most Braves fans live, “not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta.”

But MARTA has been moving people from Atlanta to Cobb by bus for years, partially at the behest of Cobb officials, thanks to a mutually beneficial collaboration that speaks to regional comity. And Cobb County DOT Director Faye DiMassimo alluded to further agreements down the road when I spoke to her recently.

“We are in collaboration with MARTA on many matters, including this upcoming move of the Braves stadium,” DiMassimo said.

Is an ongoing collaboration between Cobb County and MARTA and you’re talking about the Braves stadium?

“Absolutely, within (a) regional context,” DiMassimo said. “It’s way too preliminary yet. We’re just in the initial stage. There’s not anything to tell you at this point.”

The Braves have not approached MARTA for help, according to the transit agency. When asked if MARTA has had discussions about expanding service or adding new routes to the stadium, spokesman Lyle V. Harris replied in an e-mail, “No, not at this time.”

Is it something MARTA will think about doing? “Since we have received no such requests, it would be premature for us to speculate,” Harris said.

Perhaps there’s room for hope. DiMassimo reminded me that staff members of MARTA, the Cobb and Gwinnett transit systems, and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) hold monthly meetings to talk cooperation and strategy. Yet one wonders how much can be done to ease metro Atlanta’s nightmare without the appropriate political willpower.

Speaking of the new baseball facility, a veteran MARTA bus operator told me recently, “When there’s a game, 285 and 75 are going to be blocked. There’s no train, no bus.”

Reminded that the #12 bus served the area, he stated the sad reality of vehicles swamped in gridlock. “Yeah, but it won’t be able to move, either, when the Braves have a game,” he said. “The #12 to Cumberland Mall has enough traffic by itself without the Braves. When the Braves have a game? That’s going to be something else.”

Misleading info on commuting trends

By Robert Poole

Last month saw the release of a report from the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) which claimed that in most of the 100 largest urban areas, people were shifting in significant numbers from driving to work to using transit, walking, and bicycling. PIRG’s city-specific news releases were, for the most part, picked up and written about uncritically by busy reporters. That’s unfortunate, because “Transportation in Transition” is highly misleading in the story it attempts to tell.

Initial tipoffs come in what sorts of numbers were presented. Nearly all the numbers were percentage changes, rather than absolute numbers. But if transit in city X has a commute mode share of 5% and driving alone has 70%, then a 10% increase in transit share means an increase of 0.5 percentage points, while a 10% increase in drive-alone share would be 7 percentage points — meaning 14 times as many more people would be driving alone than would be switching to transit. Second, a rigorous report would make all its before/after comparisons using the same set of years. But at various points in the report, PIRG compares 2000 to 2011, 2000 to 2007-2011 (whatever that means), 2004 to 2012, 2005 to 2010, and 2006 to 2011. Those kinds of disparities suggest cherry-picking the data to find the set of years that best makes the point PIRG wanted to make on a given topic.

PIRG’s first big claim is that driving has declined in most large urban areas (which account for the large majority of population and personal travel). For this comparison, PIRG compares 2006 to 2011. Total US vehicle miles of travel (VMT) peaked in 2007 just before the Great Recession, and has only recently begun to increase again. But from 2000 to 2011 total VMT increased by 7.25%, while VMT per capita (which peaked in 2004) decreased by 2.8% over the same 11-year period. (My figures all come from the Oak Ridge National Laboratories Population and Vehicle Profile, 1950-2011.)

Next PIRG makes a big point about a decline in the share of commuters driving to work. In the American Community Survey data on commuting, there are two categories of driving: driving alone and car/van pooling. Over the same 2000-2011 period I used above, driving alone increased slightly, from 75.7% to 76.4%. What has dropped dramatically is car/van pooling, which went from 12.2% in 2000 to 9.7% in 2011. There was a small increase in transit’s share, from 4.6% in 2000 to 5% in 2011, as well as a larger increase in work-at-home, from 3.3% to 4.3%. So yes, total people going to work in cars decreased, but entirely due to reduced carpooling, so the number actually driving a car to work increased.

PIRG also claims that the fraction of households without a car increased between 2006 and 2011, which could well be a consequence of the recession. But ACS data on vehicle ownership show that the fraction of zero-car households decreased from 10.3% in 2000 to 9.1% in 2010.

PIRG will probably reply by noting that nearly all their figures are for specific urban areas, most of them for the hundred largest, while all those I have cited are national averages. That is true, but the figures I have cited here cover a full decade, rather than being cherry-picked to highlight recession years. And as usual, PIRG gives away its agenda in its concluding section of policy recommendations. “Since” people are shifting out of cars to using transit, bicycles, and walking, they say, transportation plans should shift funding from roads and highways to these “expanded transportation options.”

Robert Poole is director of transportation policy for the Reason Foundation.

3 comments Add your comment

Ramon Mendoza

January 21st, 2014
6:48 pm

First, Cobb and Gwinnett Counties should be allowed to attach their services to MARTA. Their transit systems should be forced to stop at a county line so that their transit commuters can walk to the nearest MARTA bus / rail station in Fulton. Walking a mile or so in the cold / heat / rain might change some attitudes about expanding MARTA coverage.

And I don’t understand Robert Poole’s opinion at all. He goes into great detail dissecting the PIRG report and throwing cold water on its conclusions, but nowhere in his writing does he tell us why having all these new cars on the road is a good thing. I wonder if commuters stuck on GA-400 every morning think that a 7.25% increase in car drivers is news worth celebrating.

Scott Mahaffy

January 21st, 2014
6:15 pm

Marta needs to serve the North West, North East, South West and South East with rail…its where the highways go and the population is too. Stop the bickering and just do it!


January 21st, 2014
11:32 am

While transit has to play a role there is no way that everyone or even a majority of the residents of metro-Atlanta can use mass-transit on a daily basis. We are no longer that city of the 1970s where most folks worked inside I-285. Now, the majority of residents live, work and play outside the perimeter and transportation planning should reflect this reality.

Now, going forward there has to be more cooperation between the various transportation entities and even shared capital projects where applicable. Extending heavy rail into the burbs may not make sense or be financially feasible, but this doesn’t mean that MARTA, CCT and GCT cannot enter into other shared services agreements.