MARTA to lawmakers: ‘Entire’ rail lines could be cut

MARTA is distributing to state lawmakers a memo that raises the possibility that it could cut rail service — “either certain days or times, or entire lines altogether” — if the Legislature doesn’t pass a measure that lets the transit agency direct more of the cash raised by a sales tax toward operations.

The Senate has already passed S.B. 120, which removes all restrictions on the spending of the sales tax. The House has passed a version that would permit MARTA to spend 60 percent. Current law demands MARTA to spend 50 percent for operation, and 50 percent for capital improvements.

The memo makes clear that failure by the House and Senate to reach an agreement would have serious consequences for Atlanta’s business community, and the ‘burbs.

In circumstances like these, extreme scenarios can be interpreted as threats, and threats can backfire. MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott called to say that she was “deadly serious.”

“This is a precious trust that I’m not prepared to play Russian roulette with,” Scott said. More details about what routes might be cut, and what rail service could be curtailed, could come as early as a March 30 meeting of the board, she said.

Download the MARTA memo yourself, here and here. It states, in part:

“Some $5 million in annual savings are being considered which consists of furloughs, salary reductions, and health care cost containment starting in FY 2010….

“The MARTA board of directors will also most likely recommend fare increases and additional parking fees for FY 2010….However, these aids are not large enough to offset the significant shortfall MARTA faces.”

But this is the largest consequence that MARTA is painting (the bold portion is as it appears in the memo):

“Without new revenue sources from the state or region…MARTA will be forced to dramatically reduce service levels, eliminating bus routes, cutting rail service (either certain days or times, or entire lines altogether), and potentially seriously impacting the overall economic well-being of this region and state.

“More than half (54%) of MARTA’s approximately 516,000 daily rides involve commuting to and from work, with another 10 percent using the system for school purposes and 10 percent for medical needs. With Atlanta already in economic crisis, we cannot afford to jeopardize essential access to employment centers, educational institutions or medical providers.”

Repeal of the sales tax restrictions would give MARTA an extra $65 million in flexibility, and help it close current shortfall. “This is not a permanent funding solution — but rather a one-time ‘self-help’ assistance measure that still requires a permanent, state-based funding solution,” the memo closes.

In an interesting opinion piece today, former Atlanta mayor Sam Massell gives a history of restrictions on the MARTA sales tax:

As mayor of Atlanta in 1971, I and many others wanted a system of free ridership on MARTA. Our issue was mobility — and we wanted it for as many people as desired it.

But there were powerful forces in the Legislature — most notably then-Lt. Gov. Lester Maddox — who wanted anything but a free transit system. Lt. Gov. Maddox thought it ought to cost at least 25 cents to ride MARTA. If ridership was free, he believed, the system would be overrun with “winos,” as the homeless were called.

Maddox had a way to ensure there would be no free ride on MARTA: Simply deny the system a huge chunk of its sales tax revenues for operations. In a 1971 amendment to the Georgia Sales Tax Law authorizing a tax levy for transit in metro Atlanta, Maddox insisted that half the sales tax revenue be set aside for capital expenses, forcing MARTA to make up the operations shortfall at the fare box.

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207 comments Add your comment

MartaMan

March 17th, 2009
6:17 pm

These phony threats to shut down marta are BS—this is just another attempt to get more taxpayer millions to fund this incompetent bunch of morons who run this system. They should all be fired and replaced with people with half a brain who could make better decisions about transportation than this group. The ATL train system is absolutely the worst in the nation. What a total joke!

Phil

March 17th, 2009
6:24 pm

And your brilliant suggestion would be?

Marta

March 17th, 2009
6:25 pm

MARTA is a joke. The system is not very well designed or managed. If there is such a shortfall, stop going to the taxpayers . . . go to the riders and raise rates – those who use it should fund it! The only time MARTA is ever busy is when an event is in town or a Braves game. For the system to EVER be viable or even profitable it must have “busy” daily traffic!

And, NO, WE DO NOT WANT IT IN GWINNETT . . .

Houckster

March 17th, 2009
6:30 pm

I’ll bet neither MartaMan nor Marta has ever ridden the system. It works very well the vast majority of the time. The comments by these two clueless individuals are the real jokes.

Dark Knight

March 17th, 2009
6:32 pm

@MartaMan
Tax payer millions?????? Excuse me, but if you had half a brain yourself you would know that MARTA gets the least amount of state and federal funds/help out of all of the subway systems in the country, and trust me that’s a deliberate effort by Sonny and the rest of the good ol’ boys downtown under the gold dome. CTA in Chicago, Metro in DC, MTA in New York, BART in the Bay area and others all get large amounts of state and or federal funds, in fact the METRO in DC is funded fully by the US Government. So lets do more research on the problem before we make blanket statments such as the one above.

concerned gwinnett

March 17th, 2009
6:32 pm

What a bunch of Beauracracy crap!!!! Who cares. The best way to save the waste is to scrap the entire system. Why continue to subsidize the few riders with any bail out. The congress just bailed out the crap deals on the leased rail cars and now this. Let’s just raise tax on private car sales some more…notice how the AJC is not posting articles or opening blogs on that Trauma Center(grady) bailout. These politicians are horrible. Enough

Michael

March 17th, 2009
6:35 pm

The winos would no longer be homeless if it were free. Moving shelters!

abbie

March 17th, 2009
6:40 pm

Marta is one of the largest transit systems with the least amount of state funding. A thriving transit system would benefit the environment and everyone in the metro area but it can’t be done on a shoestring. The State legislature needs to “get on board”.

Dark Knight

March 17th, 2009
6:41 pm

@MartaMan
One more thing genius, the only tax payer dollars that go to support MARTA are paid by residents of Dekalb and Fulton, of which you probably live in neither one. All you yokels who complain about MARTA and live in Cobb, Gwinnett, and other places please STHU!!!!! Also maybe the problems lie in the fact that the good ol’ boys at the state capitol time and time again try to “stick it to” MARTA in not providing any funds. Once again MARTA is the 9th largest Transit system in the country, 6th in daily ridership and yet it is the only one in the county not to receive state level funding. Dont get a two county 1% sales tax confused with a state wide sales tax, because thats not the case. The MARTA situation is just another example of how my home state has one foot in the 21st century and the other stuck one stuck in the 20th century

Edw3rd

March 17th, 2009
6:43 pm

Why is it always a demand for more resources without any information about performance of what exists? How about MARTA disclosing things like route utilization rates? Customer satisfaction scores?

Dark Knight

March 17th, 2009
6:44 pm

@concerned gwinnett
A few riders??? WOW do you people actually do any research your selves or do you just go off of what other people tell you????? MARTA has the 6th largest daily ridership in the country, and thats with all the problems!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can you imagine how Atlanta would/could be with a transit system like the one in DC???? Oh Im sorry your probably an inbred yokel who has never left the state!!!!

dgroy

March 17th, 2009
6:44 pm

Yeah, there’s those damn lying Atlanta Newspapers (and I use that term loosely) trying to blame Lester again. Get rid of all the imcompetents at MARTA starting at the top and replace them with good business people. This should have been done long ago but, Atlanta politics got in the way.

Brain

March 17th, 2009
6:49 pm

This is why Atlanta sucks and will always suck. On one side, you have a bunch of 70 IQ rednecks in the ‘burbs bemoaning anything that might benefit someone other than themselves. On the other hand, you have a corrupt bureaucracy run – still – by the Maynard Jackson machine.

Martaboy from Gwinnett, I don’t ever ride on your roads. I’m tired of paying for them. Gwinnett is a cesspool about to be overrun by the illegal immigrants you so fear, anyway…..How ’bout you pay to drive on every road upon which you place your 3/4 ton Chivvy? That’s fair, right?

Brain

March 17th, 2009
6:52 pm

dgroy, you mean like the ones running AIG? Citi? GM? Goldman Sachs? SunTrust?

While I’m a STRONG supporter of the privatization of pretty much anything that can be in this state, the field of “good business people” isn’t exactly vast. Furthermore, one has to pretty much assume that anything privatized would go in a no-bid contract to ShirleyGirlfriend’s inept cronies anyway.

ATLien

March 17th, 2009
6:53 pm

While the economy is bad and it’s not their fault, MARTA has been crafting their own financial crisis for some time now. How many months have we heard “the sky is falling” from MARTA? The earliest I could fine was an AJC article dated March 12, 2008 (12 months ago). Despite the recognition that there were problems ahead, it’s clear MARTA had no intention to cut costs. Otherwise, over the past year they would have at least made some limited cuts in service. When you’re speeding towards a brick wall, you take your foot off the pedal, right? Cutting staff positions that were unfilled just isn’t going to get the job done.

Secondsun

March 17th, 2009
6:54 pm

For MARTA to get what it needs, the rail system needs to be expanded, it has to be 24/7, the trains need to run at least twice as often, and the fares need to go up.

johnatl

March 17th, 2009
6:55 pm

Marta – YOU are the one that’s a joke. Do you realize that over 295,000 people ride the trains every day? And if you think all of these folks have no other way to get around, you would be sadly mistaken. Perhaps you should check it out sometime. Plenty of “suits” are packed in. I can’t imagine what our traffic would be like without it. You obviously have absolutely NO idea of what you are talking about. And guess what? MARTA, or some form of it, will be in Gwinnett soon regardless of your ignorant attitude. Who elected you to speak for 700,000 of your neighbors? I’m sure you have “issues,” since it sounds like you are regurgitating “sound bites” from Rush or Sean. Deal with the fact that you live in a major metro, or move to freaking Montana.

Brain

March 17th, 2009
6:57 pm

Dark Knight, you give your home state too much credit. We have on foot in the 19th and a toe in the 20th century. I’d like some examples of 21st Century thinking in GA? The only thing keeping the state from collapsing into it’s own metaphorical sinkhole is the fact that it’s cheap, the weather’s great and the food rocks. Every single major economic boom over the last 25 years has bypassed GA……High Tech/.com …… Atlanta ranked about 150 on the list of “who’s who” there. Biotech? Sit down. Protein Genomics? Nanotech? “New Energy”? Please!

But, when your best schools would rank at or below the state average in most other states and you’re governed by a combination of fat retard rednecks and crooked black politicians constantly on the take, I guess you can’t expect much?

saltyd

March 17th, 2009
6:59 pm

Check out the average salaries plus overtime, tack on overpaid administration & bonuses, then add on benefits that no private business could stay in business with….revenue & ridership will never be enough……

Patrick

March 17th, 2009
7:00 pm

I would say that I would like drastic changes with MARTA. Currently, I would agree that the service is quite poor. So in a sense, I agree with MartaMan and Marta. And to answer Phil’s question, I think the answer to re-focus who the most profitable customer base would be or should be. In my opinion, that is the business commuter.

I believe that MARTA should use the funds for capital projects to build nicer (i.e cleaner and safer/well lit) satellite bus stations that strategically feed into MARTA rail services. They should shut down about half of the stops on the South line past Five Points as the rider/customer base just seems too low to warrant the cost of rail service. Let me use the bus service to feed them into another rail station. This would also make service to the airport faster. Hopefully, with more strategically place satellite bus stations in North Atlanta (and the rest of Atlanta) that can be clean and safe, MARTA could actually increase riders/customers, take cars of the road, and be profitable. I enjoy the convenience of MARTA to the airport, but the rest (including the bus service) is just plain poor service.

Why

March 17th, 2009
7:01 pm

Why have they never built a spur to Turner Field, tons of revenue for each event, and only needs to be there for those events n????

Patrick

March 17th, 2009
7:05 pm

Why

March 17th, 2009
7:07 pm

johnatl, We do not want him in Montana that is why I live here now!!

Patrick

March 17th, 2009
7:10 pm

Oh and Brain:

Last time I checked my beloved Tech is in the top 10 of too many US News & Reports ‘best college’ categories to count, but I’ll bite on everything else you said.

THWG.

Just a Young Guy riding the Bus

March 17th, 2009
7:12 pm

I dont want the services of MARTA to be cut at all my family uses all the modes of transportation and we have a working car. I use the bus and train to get to school. My mom use the bus and train to get to work and my brother uses the paratransit and the MARTA mobility to get to doctor appointments that he has at least 5 times a month. If MARTA is cut we will be out of luck and thats not good. Please dont cut nothing for MARTA

johnc22

March 17th, 2009
7:16 pm

Let them fail. MARTA is already a failure as far as a mass transit system goes. It does not serve the “masses” only the few who live and work near it and those who are so poor as to have no other choice.

UGA Patrick

March 17th, 2009
7:18 pm

Not to get confused with the other Patrick posting at 7:05 and 7:10, I posted at 7:00 and will change to UGA Patrick, since other is a Bee. Can’t believe we share similar views on MARTA.

Derek

March 17th, 2009
7:21 pm

These are hard times, The STATE should not be in the business of funding a system for ATLANTA that BLEEDS money! (The same for GRADY by the way). If you can’t turn a profit and need everyone else in the “Burbs” and the rest of the state to fund transportation for those who are too lazy to find their own way to work, or grocery store or liquor store, Club, Strip-Joint.etc; Then abolish the system and let a private company run it for profit. Except for a very FEW routes, buses and trains for most of the day are EMPTY. This is just another CASH COW for jobs, like the airport, to buy votes for the Atlanta City!

Brain

March 17th, 2009
7:23 pm

Patrick,

I was referring to public high schools. Check , for example, where Walton’s average SAT score would rank against just about any other state average for SAT outside the South. It’s appalling.

Walton = 1636. Colorado average (entire state) = 1576. Pretty effing pathetic.

Brain

March 17th, 2009
7:25 pm

Derek,

While I agree that Grady needs better leadership, do you even understand what you are saying? It’s so rife with inaccuracy and hyperbole that it makes it hard to rebut.

Patrick

March 17th, 2009
7:25 pm

Plenty of us “Bees” are MARTA fans…its alot easier and infinitely cheaper to get here that way. That will change after these cuts though.

ATL Indy

March 17th, 2009
7:26 pm

I no longer live in Atlanta but I can tell you that living now in a city that claims it is a major city but does have the type of system that Marta is makes me miss it so much. Take it away and you will miss it dearly. Make critical comments all you want but if you couldn’t take it to the airport or take it the stadiums for when there are events you will miss it dearly. What makes Atlanta such a great city and a desirable city to live in is the options that it does have with mass transit. Once again move somewhere that doesn’t have it or has it but not to the extent of Marta and you will appreciate it.

Pompano

March 17th, 2009
7:29 pm

Marta is already the world’s largest mobile homeless shelter….

the dude

March 17th, 2009
7:30 pm

I ride MARTA everyday to work and occassionally ride the bus as well. I’ve done so for 3 years now. Not quite sure about the comments about how MARTA is a joke or that it sucks. For the most part, I find MARTA stays on schedule and is reliable….even the busses. Then again I’ve only taken MARTA around 1,000 times so maybe I dont have as much experience with MARTA then the people that say it sucks so bad.

Patrick

March 17th, 2009
7:33 pm

Derek:

I couldnt agree w/you more! Its high time we rolled out tolls on all the state’s interstate highways so the portion of construction and maintenance not covered by the gasoline tax can be paid by the users of the freeway and not all the taxpayers of the local jurisdictions in which the freeway runs. Level the playing field right?

doc01

March 17th, 2009
7:34 pm

OK to get back to the real issue…MARTA is not asking for MORE money, they’re asking to be able to use their money where its needed. Doesn’t do any good to use 50% of your money to buy buildings and buses if the other 50% isn’t enough to operate and maintain those buildings and buses. That’s like saying you’re not allowed to buy groceries or gas with half of your paycheck…but you can use it to buy a new flat screen TV. No business can thrive with these kinds of restrictions.

Katie

March 17th, 2009
7:41 pm

Enter your comments here

Whoa

March 17th, 2009
7:43 pm

Entire lines to be cut? How about the “Bankhead” line, which runs straight to a project? Only 54% use MARTA for work, 10% each for school and medical needs…my math says that equals 74% of ridership. What about the other 26%? Oh, winos. They paid their fare last week, and have been sleeping/selling candy on the train ever since.

If they are using 50% for Capital Improvements, then why do we ride on rail cars that were bought for the Olympics- 13 years ago??

Help me out here, folks.

Patrick

March 17th, 2009
7:43 pm

Well doc01, it seems a real easy way for state legislators to get political kudos from their constituents back in Coffee & Bacon counties is to kick Atlanta’s teeth to the curb. Unfortunately the idiots that run Atlanta (I’m talking to you Shirley Franklin and Rob Hunter) do us no favors. The house balking on the senate’s MARTA sales tax split bill plays into that strategy.

Katie

March 17th, 2009
7:47 pm

Oops – sorry about that first comment.

All I wanted to say is that I am an Atlantan who rides MARTA to work every day. I would be heartbroken if it was shut down. I really enjoy reading on my ride to work rather than stressing out in traffic. I will also agree with what others have said – that ALL types ride MARTA and that you should try it before you knock it.

Danny

March 17th, 2009
7:50 pm

Was it not MARTA who had record ridership just 8 months ago, and a profit of $30 million in recent years?!

crawdaddy

March 17th, 2009
8:03 pm

Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta

kjphotog

March 17th, 2009
8:10 pm

the same knuckleheads that don’t want a successful transit system are the same idiots that sit in traffic on 75 and 85 for hours everyday. they’re not the brightest bulbs in the lamp now are they? just like you don’t want grady until you need that level one Trauma center not in the burbs, you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

concerned gwinnett

March 17th, 2009
8:16 pm

@DARKHOODLUM – How about you doing some research. Federal Tax Dollars built and support this farce of an operation. That means all taxpayers and not just Fulton and DeKalb. Speaking of which, Fulton and Dekalb are now begging for a Grady Bailout in the form of the car sales tax. What a joke.

kjphotog

March 17th, 2009
8:17 pm

crawdaddy, a perfect example of georgia’s public school thinking. did you come up with that on your own or did your mommy help you?

csquared

March 17th, 2009
8:19 pm

Enter your comments here

csquared

March 17th, 2009
8:23 pm

it’s become obvious that this has always been an issue tinged with racist thinking. we don’t want MARTA in the burbs cause it brings in the criminal element. so let’s see, we’ll build 12 lane highways into our communities. Never have seen anyone stealing a TV getting away on the train, but driving the hooptie down the interstate, yep.

Downtowner, thanks to MARTA

March 17th, 2009
8:25 pm

I cannot drive, so I have used Marta’s bus and train service since I moved here 24 years ago, every day, to get to work downtown, to go shopping, to get to dentist/doctor appointments… everything. I mostly ride the bus, and notice that the other riders usually seem poor, often have many children in tow, or are dressed like they’re going to work (uniforms with their first names embroidered on the front), or are students going to school. It’s clear that like me most of the bus riders don’t have any other mode of transportation. I am over 65. It really seems to me that our society has some obligation to assist its poorer and older citizens. Marta is essential to so many of us getting around. Please, state legislators–help Marta to serve its poorer and older riders who have no other way of travel.

Lestor Maddox

March 17th, 2009
8:27 pm

Sam, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… You’re a bald faced liar!

UGA Patrick

March 17th, 2009
8:30 pm

It’s usually best to ignore folks that bring race up as an issue, but I must say that crawdaddy’s comments only reflect poorly on himself. Really? The last time I heard that, I think I was in the 4th grade back in the 80’s. Come everyone – get back to the issues. How about making some real opinions based on experience and adding thoughts about how to improve MARTA.

Back when I used to live in Stone Mountain, I liked being able to take MARTA into the city for work. The only downside was the summer months. I just felt like the buses and trains were never properly air conditioned. When I take it to the airport or the Dome, I still feel like it’s an issue, but since I live in town, the ride is not as long to the airport as it used to be. Anyone else have an issue with the temperature on MARTA in the summer. It really is the tipping point which makes me drive sometimes.