By Don Sullivan
At the third annual Georgia Legislative Policy Forum in September, Kelly McCutchen of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation presented a “Plan B” for transportation. He emphasized the proposal was a “framework” to move forward the discussion after the TSPLOST regional sales tax referendum failed in nine of 12 regions in Georgia. It was a well thought out plan with which I mostly agreed.
McCutchen’s comments regarding the need to focus on funding regional intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) were spot on. Atlanta has long recognized the importance of ITS and, in fact, is the headquarters of RouteMatch, a Georgia company that provides vehicle tracking and is a leading national ITS software provider. It’s not the only Georgia player: Xerox’s ACS is Norcross-based, active in outsourcing public sector services, fare collection and parking garage management. Several entrepreneurial innovators are waiting in the wings. Georgia Tech is also a leading researcher in ITS. An intersection of investment, technology and research certainly could make Atlanta a trailblazer in intelligent transportation innovations.
At MARTA, what is needed is a new and up-to-date route evaluation, an upgrade of the basic infrastructure and continuing attention to ensure the transit system remains in a state of “good repair.” Consider where managed competition can promote efficiencies of operation and more cost-effective service. Provide that to MARTA and Atlanta will have an optimum transit system that works.
One area of concern is the emphasis on Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT. BRT’s train-like buses operating in a dedicated right of way were once considered a low-cost alternative to rail, favored by the Federal Transit Administration. Unfortunately, as with many programs the feds set their sights upon, BRT may have grown too expensive over the years as it grew in popularity.
One alternative may very well be expanding the existing GRTA Xpress Bus system, which has now become the “low cost” alternative. This excellent system has proven to be successful, popular and effective. Adding suburb-to-suburb service could produce a complete transportation network in the area and, perhaps, one that could evolve into BRT and – in the unlikely event that population growth and density ever justify it – rail transit. What is important to remember is that a majority of express bus riders have given up automobiles to use the bus.
One final element to “Plan B” is essential: Transit officials must be willing to work with elected state representatives. McCutchen and the Georgia Public Policy Foundation are onto something and, clearly, they get the picture. There were dozens of state elected officials present at the Legislative Policy Forum. Yet there were no high-profile area transit officials visible at the presentation.
The fact that local transit decision makers and the Georgia Legislature have virtually nothing to do with each other except over the top of a microphone is disturbing. Georgians need public officials who are willing to work together, particularly when such important issues are at stake.
The Legislative Policy Forum and the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s transportation proposal presented an ideal opportunity for these transit officials to discuss the future with those who hold the key to the future of transportation in their hands. Now there is an equally great opportunity for our Governor to take the lead and bring these folks together to work on transportation problems that no one else has yet been able to solve.
This commentary was submitted to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation by Don Sullivan, a transit consultant and former Deputy Regional Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration’s Region 4 in Atlanta who was involved in the first construction grants for MARTA rail. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
©Georgia Public Policy Foundation (October 26, 2012). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.