Special series: MARTA put itself in red before recession hit

(Note: This is the third in a special series examining MARTA. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. The final part will be posted Wednesday evening.)

When the economy went bust a couple of years ago, tax revenue fell everywhere. But at MARTA, passenger fares and other income meant that the agency’s total revenue actually rose between 2007 and 2009 by 1 percent, or about $5 million.

On the other side of the ledger, however, apparently no one got the memo. Operating expenses jumped by more than $60 million, or 19 percent, over those two years.

Transportation — that is, passenger service: Up 12 percent.

Maintenance — Up 21 percent.

Administrative — that is, overhead: Up 33 percent.

When looking at MARTA’s finances, we tend to examine the budget gap in terms of revenue — the transit agency’s lack of state funding, or its disappointing sales-tax proceeds due to the recession.

As with many public entities, however, expenses tell the real story. Deficit spending was the plan all along.

Look, no one foresaw the housing crash, financial panic and deep recession. Budgets aren’t made with the benefit of hindsight.

But by mid-2008, when the fiscal 2009 budget was approved, MARTA knew things were getting bad. Its sales-tax forecasts had already been revised downward by $24 million (in reality, shoppers would deliver $54 million less than that).

Next missteps

So, what did the agency do? It planned to boost spending even as revenue declined — to make 2009 the third straight year in which spending growth would outpace revenue growth. And it planned to do the same in 2010.

Even before the bottom fell out, then, MARTA planned to run a $44 million deficit in 2009 and expected to lose another $49 million in 2010. That was the optimistic scenario.

MARTA’s explanation goes like this: After cutting service and personnel three times between 2002 and 2005, the agency’s board “made a conscious decision [in 2006] to invest in service improvements,” says Ted Basta, the agency’s chief of business services.

The plan called for adding some 600 positions by mid-2009. (Neither Basta nor the agency’s general manager, Beverly Scott, worked at MARTA when the plan was made.)

Then came the bust. About half of the new positions were never filled. In fact, MARTA reported to the Legislature last year that it actually had six fewer workers in 2009 than in 2007. Nevertheless, the agency said its salary costs were $27 million higher and benefits $18 million greater — making up three-quarters of the $60 million increase I mentioned at the outset.

Making up for losses

All of this was done in the name of expanding service as much as possible. “This is not a profit and loss” operation, Basta says. “If it were, you would not run the services you run.”

He’s right. MARTA is not a profit and loss.

It’s a loss and loss. And loss.

At this point, some reader(s) will respond, “But all types of transportation are subsidized. Roads don’t build themselves, you know.”

That’s true, but it’s a question of magnitude. Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, estimates that American taxpayers subsidize personal cars each year to the tune of 1 cent per passenger mile.

For transit, including operations and capital, O’Toole says, the taxpayers’ bill comes to 70 cents per passenger mile.

MARTA operates less expensively than many of its peers nationally, but its taxpayer subsidy still amounted to almost 41 cents per passenger mile in 2008.

Whether you want metro Atlanta to relieve congestion through additions or improvements to our road network or through transit, whether you drive or park and ride, surely you can agree that we can do better than this.

Next: A cheaper solution for MARTA


68 comments Add your comment

Hillbilly Deluxe

May 18th, 2010
7:22 pm

A 33% jump in administrative costs over 2 years is a pretty big jump for any enterprise.


May 18th, 2010
7:56 pm

I’m going to sit this one out and wait for part four. Ah, one question, where does that forty-one cents fall in the continuum of system costs around the country?

Jason T

May 18th, 2010
9:12 pm

Hmmmm….another taxpayer-funded money pit. Geez, I’m shocked.


May 18th, 2010
9:56 pm

A sound case was damaged by citing Randal O’Toole as a reference. He is a partisan idealogue whose analyses are not widely respected. This series, so far, represents your most lucid commentary and critique since you’ve been at the AJC. Please resist slipping in the biased (and invalid) statistics simply because they support your preferred outcome.

Reid in EAV

May 18th, 2010
10:12 pm

Randal O’Toole. Yeahhhh. He never twists the numbers or selectively quotes facts or statistics. Never. Always intellectually honest, since he has no agenda.

Dear Kyle. I agree with PJ. Actually, I’ll go further than PJ. You actually cited O’Toole as an authority. Therefore I can confidently pay no attention to the rest of your bloviating series, confident that I understand exactly what axe you’re grinding. Conservative it most definitely is not.

Burroughston Broch

May 18th, 2010
10:14 pm

MARTA’s primary focus is to be a jobs program, not an efficient provider of mass transit. Once that primary focus is changed to being an efficient provider of mass transit, MARTA has a future. Two changes are necessary, (1) eliminate the union and (2) put a professional management team in place. Until these changes are accomplished, MARTA has no long term future.


May 18th, 2010
10:18 pm

When an agency is required by law to pass a balanced budget, how does it deficit spend? And when the purpose of the agency is to provide a service that requires human operators for every vehicle, why is it surprising or automatically bad that a large portion of the budget goes to its many necessary employees?


May 18th, 2010
10:36 pm

What about building a strategic plan that really addresses the needs of all Atlantans? Maybe a transportation system that is easier to use then just driving? It needs to address all classes and go where people live and work.


May 18th, 2010
11:45 pm

where’s the yellow line?

Inside Knowledge

May 19th, 2010
12:05 am

I love how Ted Basta acts like this mess was in place before he and Beverly Scott got there. What about the two years of SURPLUSES prior to their arrival? When Richard McCrillis was at the helm, MARTA ran in the black (please, no cheap jokes here). And yes, the MARTA Board reinvested a portion of those surpluses back into service. After years of cut cut cut, the Board felt obligated to make modest improvements to the bus system and rail service. After two back-to-back years of surpluses, who knew the recession was going to hit, especially so soon after the recession of 2001? Regardless, the hiring frenzy occurred when Dr. Scott came to town and she more than doubled the number of senior staff members and gave out hefty promotions to her most loyal fans. There’s no side-stepping that.


May 19th, 2010
12:08 am

I’m not saying that there are not administrative – ahem – problems at MARTA.
However, there is NO public transit system in this country that turns a “profit” without meaningful public funding, particularly one that actually does the things that people are asking for (easier to use, serves more locations, etc.).
Yes, there needs to be an overhaul of MARTA. That will happen when the state provides funds for the system, and therefore has the right to demand and get accountability in management.
People who cry about transit not being internally profitable should ask themselves whether roads are profitable. No – our auto infrastructure is nearly completely publicly funded (state and fed) and its management (GDOT) is a pitiful good ol’ boy pork barrel mess. But somehow that’s OK…..

Michael H. Smith

May 19th, 2010
2:11 am

Under the subheading, Next Missteps

A planned deficit is like a planed demise. Deficit spending where there is never a profit motive intended or at minimum an intention of breaking even in cases of non-profit entities is declaring fiscal suicide.

However, in this case MARTA decision makers need to be called into account as to who was being best served in this planned deficit scheme. It appears the public at large was intentional robbed to benefit some individuals in management and the union.

Under the subheading, Making up for losses

Fiscal insolvency is not an admirable service anyone should reasonably desire. To attempt justifying it with rather childish reasoning only engenders absurdity.

With this in mind State Legislators have very good reasons to turn deaf ears to any MARTA request for State funds.

~ Side issue

For the sake of clarity and expediency please do tell us Kyle, on what does Mr. O’Toole base his estimates that American taxpayers subsidize personal cars each year to the tune of 1 cent per passenger mile?

If it is based on the costs of infrastructure “subsidies for roads” there really is no magnitude to question in any degree.

At least there wasn’t an arguable degree present until “Cash for Clunkers” and “Government Motors” became intrusively made part of our lives by the force of BIG GOVERNMENT!

Jeff Fryer

May 19th, 2010
7:13 am

Look, no one but Goldman Sachs foresaw the housing crash, financial panic and deep recession. How can I put this? Budgets aren’t made with the benefit of hindsight, even though it’s too bad, because hindsight has twenty-twenty vision in both eyes, an instant replay button, freeze frame, magnification, and teams of I told you so’ers. Hear, hear. Lend me your ears. Something has to be done.

If not, then Marta’s passengers are finished, and we may as well sit around the campfire, roast marshmellows, play the guitar and wait for them to invent transporters.

Beam me up, Atlanta.


May 19th, 2010
7:33 am

Would rather give my money to MARTA than GDOT right about now, from whatever side you look at it.

Churchill's MOM

May 19th, 2010
7:35 am

Looks like Beverly Scott could teach the federal government a thingor 2 about spending.


May 19th, 2010
7:39 am

Not a fan of Cato. They always seem to work backwards from the answer they want to believe to the question. Sort of like MARTA’s budget!

But, there is no doubt about MARTA not being a cost-focused enterprise. But, what incentive to they have? What manager or supervisor in his right mind would volunteer up a staff cut? That will only bring pain and trouble to the manager in the short run and no benefit to him, at any point in time.

At the corporate level, how is MARTA rewarded for good cost control? I would guess that “empire building” is rewarded and cost control is not.

Most for profit enterprises have a reward system the engenders a mind set of good cost control. Whether it’s an annual bonus when the company does well or an individual reward for a good idea, MARTA could sure use some of that mind set in their corporate culture.

Some good benchmarking would be useful…and not just against other transit agencies. Benchmark against other service providers, particularly those in transportation. Delta and Airtran, UPS and FedEx would be a good place to start.

A MARTA that could show itself to be an industry leader in finding and implementing productivity gains would sure have an easier time finding the subsidy they need to provide first-rate service.

fred smith

May 19th, 2010
7:45 am

Nicely done, sir. A comparative analysis of Marta with other systems on this order would be interesting. I was awed by BART the last time I was out there. Have no clue what it costs or how it’s paid for, but the simple southern bigotry and legislative incompetence that has held Marta down since its inception certainly isn’t operating out there. (On the other hand, it does seem CA is running at a slight deficit – - – ). Some of the cost of all those empty four-lane highways going to and from nowhere all over Georgia paid for by the Atlanta economic engine certainly would have been nice to use here.

Good Series, Kyle

May 19th, 2010
7:54 am


You are right no transportation sytem covers it’s capital and operating costs. And of course it is a matter of degree. On the highway side we pay a user fee – taxes at the pump, taxes for policing, taxes for medicare (40,000 plus or minus deaths per year on highways, disabilities way higher), federal earmarks (taxes) for specific highway pork projects, misuse of tax money ( is the widening of the road in front of the Governor’s house in Bonaire one of the state’s top transportation needs?), a policy to fight wars partly based on our need for oil from some of the United States best friends in the world – Venuzuela, Saudi Arabia, Iraq?

I sure hope your conservative think tank considers energy policy when it thinks transportaion – deep wells, nuclear power, alternative green energy, natural gas, with less and less oil.

Also, suggest you widen your transportation look – why does Georgia need so many agencies???
SRTA, GRTA, MARTA, ARC, GDOT, and no doubt others – each has it’s inefficiencies, it would seem streamilining is much needed.


May 19th, 2010
8:31 am

Curiously, in a supposed anti-incumbent year, most of the departing are not retiring but seeking higher office. We may recycle more than we replace. The bad news is that a frustrating 114 seats still have but one contestant. Two of them aren’t even incumbents, meaning they will affect state policy without being vetted by voters. And I have to think that we’d be better off if many had run instead for the Legislature — and cut down on the number running unopposed. Georgia’s problems are numerous. They aren’t going away. There’s too much stale thinking at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle. New voices would be welcome.


May 19th, 2010
8:32 am

“Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, estimates that American taxpayers subsidize personal cars each year to the tune of 1 cent per passenger mile.”
REALLY? 1 cent per mile for the DOT to design, build, maintain, police, administer and provide medical care for all the roads in America? I didn’t mention our taxes spent on wars in the Middle East and Africa to support a car-oriented society. Then there’s the personal cost of buying, maintaining and insuring a car. There are also the environmental costs of our car dependency such as pollution and loss of natural resources. The CATO Institute is using fuzzy math here and I have a hard time taking this article seriously.

Jeff Fryer

May 19th, 2010
8:38 am

In china people still use bikes. Why cant we build bikeways into town and around the perimeter? Bikes! Traffic is so slow at rush hour, a bike can get there just as fast. If it rains….nevermind.


May 19th, 2010
8:39 am

You’re nibbling at the edges, Kyle. MARTA’s problems all along have been (1)failure to provide adequate service to the growth areas, (2)failure to charge fares commensurate with costs, and (3)failure to rein in human resources costs.

Many years ago, the dead-tree edition of the AJC published annual lists of salary costs for MARTA. Readers were astonished to find that bus drivers even then were earning salaries and overtime of $60,000, $70,000, and even $80,000. I haven’t seen such a salary listing in many years, but the figures ought to tell us something. Today, even some laid-off executives would be scrambling to become bus drivers.

You can’t run an enterprise with those kinds of human resources costs.


May 19th, 2010
9:23 am

the gdot hate has got to stop… its a government agency and has it problems, but some of yall make it seem like its the worse thing alive… most of its problems can be traced to the gold dome… like the fact the dome made them take out 12 yrs worth of loan spending and told them which projects to build (projects that they knew had no engineering merit) and then comes back and says by the way GDOT you have to pay the debt service (the only state agency that does)… then when GDOT goes to an accounting system used by almost all other DOTs the governor accuses it of “enron” accounting… and switching back creates a “deficit”… the governor has been trying to paint gdot badly so he can stoop his hand into it more and control it more and people are buying it…

Port O' John

May 19th, 2010
9:31 am

Kyle –you were doing pretty well in this series until you cited Randal O’Toole and CATO as an authority. That’s kind of like citing the American Petroleum Institute on the BP oil spill (or the Sierra Club for that matter). I doubt you will agree, but CATO is really a partisan think tank — they have the preconceived notion that public transit should pay for itself and start from that premise, but highways and roads are not held to the same standard. They get way too much funding from the oil and related industries who rely on our car culture to be taken seriously on this issue. (I don’t listen to the Sierra Club either -they’re silly folks.)

I agree that MARTA needs to seriously reconfigure its routes and costs. I once heard that MARTA has not really updated its bus routes since the early ’80s. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly hasn’t changed its bus routes much since I started riding MARTA in 1989 and since 1996 I have been a daily rider.

I stick with the trains because the bus routes seem like they were developed by Picasso after a bad acid trip — just looking at the bus routes gives me a headache.

Although I think we’ve made a serious mistake in creating suburban transit agencies that compete with MARTA and each other (I’m not sure even the CATO Institute would think that government transit agencies competing against each other – with taxpayer funds is a good idea) – but there is no fixing that. Cobb Transit, Gwinnett Transit are here to stay – maybe when GRTA runs out of federal funding it will fold and that might be a catalyst to real change. Any transit planner will tell you that requiring riders to change between transit systems to complete a single trip is planned failure. But that’s Georgia for you. Don’t try and sell me onthe idea that the Georgia Legislature will ever fix that situation — they are too busy carrying water for the NRA to allow guns everywhere to focus on long-term quality of life issues.

But MARTA could be fixed, if the Board had a spine (and maybe a brain). Sam Massell has for years wanted MARTA to simply run a bus route up and down Peachtree. Hop on at 5 Points and get off at the corner of in the heart of Buckhead. But no, you have to change buses at the Art Center Station — that’s a deal-killer for me. Why wait 15 minutes at the Art Center Station for another bus when I can ride the train? I’m with Sam on this one.

Similarly even the “tourist route” — downtown, the zoo, King District, Carter Center, etc., looks like a plate of spaghetti. I’d change the routes by having them primarily feed the transit stations and use smaller buses. Under MARTA’s union contract, drivers of the smaller buses get paid less and the buses are less costly to run. Having smaller routes that service dense, high-traffic areas (Lenox, Va-Highlands, Little 5) and then circle back to a transit station.

I’d also have a simple tourist route — hop on a bus by Centennial Park and run east to the King Center and then the Carter Center – stop at the Inman Park Station and then reverse course. The geography just doesn’t suit a single route to serve all of the tourist attractions.

Peach Girl

May 19th, 2010
9:46 am

Kyle, you seem like a nice guy but this reporting is parochial at best. You’ve taken the superficial arguments against MARTA, found a couple of not-so-fantastic sources to back up the claims, and run with it. There’s little counterbalance to this “series” and no real in-depth look at transit. Frankly, I’m surprised the AJC editors allowed this sort of thing. Was MARTA given a chance to respond to any of this?

What would have been more productive, for those of us who actually give a damn about improving regional transportation, reducing metro congestion and providing new businesses a reason to locate here, is a sincere look at where the Atlanta region needs to go with transit and how MARTA can play a role in that. The discussion should be about how we help restore/repair the spine of a regional transit system — not taking cheap shots.

Your series has been like kicking the kid on the playground who has already stumbled. I’ve been reading for three days expecting you to eventually dole up something more thoughtful. Now I can see you may not be capable of it. Too bad. You had an opportunity to help start a real conversation about regional transportation and you blew it.


May 19th, 2010
10:06 am

and before yall mention the gridlock in atlanta being the problem with gdot a couple of more points… for every dollar the metro atlanta area puts into gas tax they get back somewhere between 60 and 75 cents back in improvements, the rest is going to rural georgia (a major problem in this state… over 1/2 the population lives in metro atlanta, but the legistlators are mostly rural, and money is taken away from the city/economic engine of the state and used to subsidize the rural counties)… then GDOT is not allowed to spend gas tax revenue on transit because the state law says roads and bridges… with all the restrictions it becomes hard to actually do much for a city that doesn’t want or have space for more lanes…

Hindu Elvis Pimp

May 19th, 2010
10:14 am

If you are going to pile on MARTA, do it for the right things, primarily, their labor force. I’ve never encountered such a consistently lifeless, surly, and negative demeanor like I have when I ride MARTA. MARTA has a lot of perception problems(crime, dirty buses and trains), but the one perception that is actually true is the labor force. They make you feel like you owe them something. I am a patron and should be treated like a customer. This includes the police force. I see numerous times, MARTA police in their car, exceeding the speed limit to go from station to station. I also see some officers dressed in military garb. Really? Do we need a military presence? How about a friendly, helpful presence? I would patronize MARTA more often if it was slightly more pleasant than it is now. Now is like riding a prison bus and MARTA employees are angry, overweight prison guards waiting on their next pay check.

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
10:20 am

Let me just say, I love all the people who criticize me for citing a scholar whose work “supports my preferred outcome,” when their main beef with him is that his work doesn’t support *their* preferred outcome.

If someone wants to cite a different study that came to a different conclusion, feel free to do so. But I don’t take seriously anyone who simply pronounces a highly knowledgeable source as “biased” and thus “invalid.”

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
10:24 am

Dave: I haven’t done the math for the other systems. If I find some free time, I’ll try to do so.

For everyone talking about the subsidy per passenger mile: “Passenger” is the operative word here. In other words, this is what we spend per mile that someone actually travels. Total spending on roads may well be higher than on transit. But costs per passenger mile are of course lower for roads because more people use them. This is a measure of bang for the buck.

One way to make transit a less subsidized system would be for more people to use it. Outside of a few of the nation’s highest-population and most dense cities, that hasn’t been the case in this country.

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
10:27 am

Disgusted: Those salary lists are still available in the MARTOC reports posted here: http://www.itsmarta.com/reports.aspx

Selfishly, I wish they were still published in our paper…

Brad Steel

May 19th, 2010
10:28 am

Subsidized per passenger mile – thanks shoveling in this relative rhetorical crap.

A passenger-mile on MARTA is not a passenger-mile in a car. Just like a passenger-mile in a plane is not like a passenger-mile walked in downtown NY. The comparison in misleading garbage. But that is what I would expect from the tools at Cato and from the suckers who put any credence in their discredited rhetoric.


May 19th, 2010
10:33 am

Here’s a good one. A little aged, but still valid.


The late Paul Weyrich was a well known conservative and staunch supporter of rail transit.

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
10:34 am

Peach Girl: MARTA will be writing an op-ed in response to my series, which will run in print and online. I’ll also post it here on my blog. We’re not sure about the timing yet, but I expect it will be early next week.

As for solutions: I plan to offer some of those, specific to MARTA, in the final installment. And I’ll continue to look at bigger-picture solutions in the future (I’ve done several of those kinds of pieces in the past). But I think the future-of-MARTA question, even if it’s “parochial” in your view, is one that has to be answered before that bigger, regional picture can be charted.

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
10:38 am

Brad Steel: Passenger miles are a very common statistic in federal transit statistics — I got my passenger data from the National Transit Database, compiled by the Federal Transit Administration. I guess there are a lot of suckers out there, huh?

When you’re talking about intracity trips like commutes, it’s an absolutely legitimate metric — a commute doesn’t change its length just because of the mode of transportation you choose to make it. So, how much does it cost to move that commuter that distance?


May 19th, 2010
10:38 am

Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, estimates that American taxpayers subsidize personal cars each year to the tune of 1 cent per passenger mile.

Just wondering if the Cato Institute included the cost of military spending, including but not limited to bases, troops, and wars in the Middle East to keep the oil flowing when calculating this figure.

Also wondering if CATO included the taxpayer expense for environmental cleanup arising out of oil spills such as that off the coast of Santa Barbara in the ‘69, flowing from the Exxon Valdez in the ‘89, the approximately 7 million gallons of oil spilled as a result of Katrina in ‘05, or the current mess associated with Deepwater Horizon (there are numerous other significant oil spills that are not reported by the press).

Does this figure account for estimated Medicare/Medicaid/VA costs associated with asthma, emphysema and other lung diseases caused or aggravated by with air pollution caused by cars and trucks?

Of course, government subsidies would not include the cost of lives lost or pain and suffering arising out of our addiction to oil. Nevertheless, I suspect that the CATO Institute’s 1 cent per passenger mile estimate is significantly understated.

I Report/You Decide

May 19th, 2010
10:59 am

For those of you throwing out the “well, roads are taxpayer subsidized too” canard, please recall that buses run on…you guessed it…ROADS. So the money spent on roads that supposedly subsidizes private transportation also equally subsidizes MARTA.

Hindu Elvis Pimp

May 19th, 2010
11:06 am

Oh wow……
Kyle, you wrote:
Let me just say, I love all the people who criticize me for citing a scholar whose work “supports my preferred outcome,” when their main beef with him is that his work doesn’t support *their* preferred outcome.

If someone wants to cite a different study that came to a different conclusion, feel free to do so. But I don’t take seriously anyone who simply pronounces a highly knowledgeable source as “biased” and thus “invalid.”

You want us to find an alternate and or different study? Isn’t that your role when filing an unbiased report?


May 19th, 2010
11:21 am

The solution is simple by your standards lets just use cars and build roads in metro areas.Whose house will they take for the capacity;yours.The Cato statement is fiction.

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
11:33 am

Hindu: This is an opinion piece; I’m an opinion writer. And I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of Mr. O’Toole’s figures. What I am suggesting is that people who want to equate “bias” with inaccuracy provide some evidence that Mr. O’Toole’s figures are inaccurate.

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
11:36 am

Base: You’ve oversimplified things a great deal. On the road transportation side of the equation — and, like it or not, roads are and will always be a large part of the equation — there are lots of ways to make existing roads work better before we get to building more of them.

Churchill's MOM

May 19th, 2010
11:45 am

Kyle Wingfield 10:27 am

I went to this link and noticed that they did NOT have their financials for last year posted. I tried to down load the MARTOC reports but the first 2 tries came back with a program error & the 3 rd locked up my computer. Out here in the sticks I only have a DSL so it my be my problem.

Since I can’t get at the data, does MARTA have $100,000 bus drivers.?

I would also like to thank all of you in Atlanta for providing the rest of Georgia with the wonderful road system we have. Think about it next time you drive up here to a UGA football game.

Hindu Elvis Pimp

May 19th, 2010
11:47 am

Amazing. You admit it’s an opinion piece, yet bristle when we point out the study you cite may be biased because it is from a biased think tank.

I’m not doubting it is an opinion. Nor are many others. We are just pointing out the study you reference may be biased.

Get over yourself.


May 19th, 2010
12:23 pm

Ain’t nothing a big ole pile of tax money can’t solve.


May 19th, 2010
12:52 pm

How do we make the roads “OPERATE BETTER” I think we have been trying that for the last 30 years.You are right roads will always be a part of transportation but so is the transit alternative.The target for immediate change is the peak hour,where the most congestion is.Why should we build highways for the peak hour when for the majority of the time the capacity is not needed.How do we deal with this peak hour demand that is the issue and at what cost.


May 19th, 2010
12:55 pm

Jefferson is right. “Ain’t nothing a big ole pile of tax money can’t solve.”

35% of metro-Atlanta tax dollars are diverted to other areas of the state. Where is the Tea Party? Metro Republicans? Any story on Metro area transportation should start right there.

This “entitlement” is completely off the table. You want outrage? Have cato review the Georgia system for new road work. Have cato study GDOT.

Funny how you can cut, cut, cut spending. Just don’t cut the entitlement from say 35% to 25%.

What a system.

Tea Party Meber

May 19th, 2010
1:04 pm

Im write here Danny. Were tired of the tax and spend liberils keeping marta alive just so emmigrants can use it.

96 SC

May 19th, 2010
1:20 pm

Kyle, it appears that MARTA authorities are successfully running a JOBS PROGRAM modeled after WELFARE ENTITLEMENT. Control of MARTA should be vested in a Regional Quasi-Public entity that will provide and/or inbrease services to the geographic areas where traffic bottlenecks are evident, e.c. I75, I85 north of the city and I20 east and west of the city. MARTA would be well advised to discontinue the Mini Buses that currently pickup elderly and disabled patrons from their homes and transport these patrons to distant destinations, these mini buses standby to return the patrons to their homes after the patrons have completed their apointments and or shopping. In other words the mini-buses are operateed as personal limos. We can not continue this wasteful operation. A private carrier or taxi would be cheaper and more efficient, I shudder to think of the cost per mile MARTA encounters in this scenario.

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
1:42 pm

Hindu: It seemed to me that you and others were arguing that the information must be wrong because it was somehow “biased.” Facts are either right or wrong. They, unlike writers, don’t have opinions.

If I read your comment(s) incorrectly, my apologies.

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
1:45 pm

Nice try, Tea Party Meber. Or should I say…


May 19th, 2010
1:50 pm

Kyle – You want your series of blogs to be taken seriously, but then you quote O’Toole (how appropriate sounding is that name, by the way) and say you have no reason to doubt the accuracy of his figures. Are you joking? What would you say to a writer who only posted analysis from the Sierra Club or Congress for New Urbanism?! It’s a two way street. There are plenty of transit and urban groups who have done rebuttals of O’Toole’s “work”. I suggest you read some of it to at least get an idea of what O’Toole is choosing to leave out of his analysis on transit and land use planning. I’m not saying I believe every critique coming from the pro transit and land use planning groups are correct, but they make some valid points and expose O’Toole’s analysis as at least somewhat flawed.

Start at page 19: http://www.vtpi.org/railcrit.pdf


PS. I do give you credit for following up to comments on your blog.

Brad Steel

May 19th, 2010
1:54 pm

I got my passenger data from the National Transit Database, compiled by the Federal Transit Administration. Hmm. That’s funny. Cause you cite O’Toole not the FTA. That’s convenient 2nd derivative filtered info.

When you’re talking about intracity trips like commutes, it’s an absolutely legitimate metric..
Maybe so, but there’s nothing in your article that says it is limited to intracity trips. Nor is there any evidence that the metric includes amortized capital investment costs or environmental impact costs.

With the source cited and lack of support, why would anyone but an easily swayed rube buy in to your weird attack on public transportation.

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
2:32 pm

Brad, if you’ve bothered to read the series you will have noticed that I’ve referred to passenger miles several other times.


May 19th, 2010
3:31 pm

I think the comparison of transit to highways and roads is out of scope here. The only time that is relevant is when there is some analysis to justify adding capacity. Then you’d do a cost/benefit analysis between alternatives. The real question here, and I think Kyle is getting at it, is “do we have the best MARTA we can have”? So far, it appears the answer is no. The next question is, “What needs to be done to make it so?”

I think it’s refreshing to find a conservative who doesn’t start out with the answer “MARTA is worthless” and work backward.


May 19th, 2010
3:36 pm

I echo the sentiments about the surly, dumb and fat MARTA employees. They are typical government employees in my opinion. No responsibility for their own dumb actions.

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
3:54 pm

Appreciate it, Don.


May 19th, 2010
4:08 pm

I think that one poster hit the nail on the head. It seems that in big cities and in particular big cities controlled by Democrats that they view stuff like Marta as a jobs program. More of the entitlement mentality and more of the get taxpayer funded jobs for my friends and constitutuents mentality. But as Margaret Thatcher one said about socialism and socialistic programs sooner or later you run out of other people’s money. And sooner or later Marta runs out of other taxpayer’s money.

The conservative view is that a public service should benefit the citizenry and hopefully pay for itself or at least give the taxpayers a benefit that’s reasonably in accordance with its cost.


May 19th, 2010
6:09 pm

Kyles 3 part in depth report reads like something my high school er came up with, pathetic journalism to say the least.
Was this supposed to be some cutting edge investigative reporting?

Oh well

May 19th, 2010
7:07 pm

Transportation is neither conservative or liberal. It should be based on the capacity needed to move people and goods which benefits the economy be you liberal or conservative.

The comparison between MARTA and Highways as Georgia, constitutionally is required to invest in only roads and bridges. We are fortunate to have the MARTA system we have and mainly thanks to some very strong political leadership at the US Capital and for 1 Presidential Term. Yes there are things that could be improved.

Atlanta would not be an Olympic City, hosted the Super Bowl, host annual SEC Championship games and attract conventions without MARTA. MARTA’s record 11M people in 10 days.

Kyle and while roads will always be necessary so will Transit if Atlanta and Georgia are to continue to enjoy robust economic growth. We, as Georgians, are very vulnerable to spikes in the price of Gasoline. We have no alternative.

MARTA’s sister systems – WMATA and BART continued to expand and both San Francisco and Washington DC are cities where you can step off a plane and get to anywhere by transit. In the same time period Georgia built 4 lane highways criss crossing south Georgia not based on capacity needs but based on a required balanced distribution of highway funds by congressional district.

If we hit a period of high cost gasoline Atlanta’s and the rest of Georgia’s economy suffers in comparison to other cities and states that have made multi-modal investments in transportation.

Kyle, your conservative think tank that you referenced may prefer to see Atlanta build tunnels and double deck 285 and criss cross downtown with additional interstate highways. But then the city with that model Los Angeles is now extending their subway system.

Op-ed may give you all sorts of excuses not to overly investigate this topci and that is a shame because the transportation challenges this City and State face our daunting and treating them lightheartedly is unbecoming of a major metropolitan newspaper.


May 19th, 2010
7:13 pm

I read somewhere that MARTA’s 1000+ unionized bus drivers make more than an Atlanta public school teacher with a Master’s Degree. If that is true, their financial situation will never improve.


May 19th, 2010
7:46 pm

Examples calling out Randal O’Toole:
…and there is a whole lot more too


May 19th, 2010
7:52 pm

Kyle…yes facts are facts but when you take a bunch of unrelated or cherry picked facts and make an assumption based on incomplete information, it ceases to be fact any longer.
From a post on the following site:

I just reviewed this document as well as some of the data that O’Toole cites. I believe he has misstated the total subsidies for highway transportation, possibly by as much as $70 billion. Correct me if I am wrong, but he also does not count property and sales taxes that divert their revenues to road funds as subsidies, even though that is exactly what they are.
Moreover, he compares ALL road finances to Amtrak finances, when those comparisons are improper. Amtrak does not pretend to be a suitable substitute for rural transportation. As per the U.S. DOT rural driving constitutes 33% of all passenger-miles. In contrast, I suspect urban and inter-urban/state road spending probably constitutes the lion’s share of all road financing. So as a starting point, O’Toole should have compared urban and inter-state road spending to Amtrak spending, although personally I think a more apt comparison would have been just urban and interstate highway spending to Amtrak finances (all in per-passenger mile terms, of course).
There are other problems, and new ones keep coming to mind: O’Toole ignores costs due to fatalities, congestion, policing, noise pollution, returns to scale–all of which probably favor rail transportation over (urban and interstate) roads on the whole.
The work should not be taken seriously.

Jeff Fryer

May 19th, 2010
8:47 pm

Why can’t they simply raise prices for passengers? It’s not like there’s any competition. How much more would the average ticket have to cost to break even?

Kyle Wingfield

May 19th, 2010
9:29 pm

Really, Scott? You’ve copied the comment of an anonymous reader on a blog called “Trains for America” — a source devoid of bias, I’m sure — to attack Mr. O’Toole’s credibility? One that says he doesn’t count one type of tax when he expressly does count it? http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=500

More broadly, all the ire toward Mr. O’Toole and Cato has been one heckuva distraction from the other 90 percent of my post. That, or a very telling silence.


May 19th, 2010
10:29 pm

Not that you had much credibility to start with, but you lost all remaining credibility when you quoted Randall O’Toole. He is a known anti-transit advocate.


May 20th, 2010
8:59 am

Your comparison about the costs per passenger mile are misleading. You include the capital costs in mass transit, but I doubt if they are included in the comparison cost for automobiles. We should not be so naive to think that an additional penny per mile would make the highways self funding.

Comparing the capital costs is difficult because, for major highway projects, the vast majority of funds comes from the Federal government. The cost of borrowing that money is not figured into the highway costs. I think to be fair we should include that cost, since we know that the Federal government is borrowing the money, we are just paying for it via other taxes.

By GDOT estimates the cost per lane mile of urban interstates is $20 million. A 40 year mortgage on that would be about $96000 month. 3200 per day. On average, each lane mile of traffic carries 16000 cars. So the capital costs are $0.20 per mile.

20 cents per mile is MUCH LESS than the costs of mass transit. But, it is also much less than would be covered by the gasoline taxes we pay.

Marta User

May 21st, 2010
3:45 pm

If every one in Fulton and Dekalb Counties, who pays for Marta, will park their cars and started using Marta, then we can keep the other counties interlopers out. Let them sit on the freeways for three or fours hours a day while life pass them by.

[...] (Note: This concludes a special series examining MARTA. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here or Part 3 here.) [...]

[...] May, the AJC’s Kyle Wingfield penned a multi-part opinion series about MARTA’s financial woes. One possible solution the conservative columnist [...]