Teamwork Will Move Georgia Transit Forward

November 9th, 2012 by Leave a Comment

By John Keys

With the defeat of the regional transportation sales tax (TSPLOST) this summer, it appeared that Georgia was stuck in neutral and mired in the mud.

Addressing the third annual Georgia Legislative Policy Forum in September, however, Kelly McCutchen, president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, outlined how information technology-based transportation solutions and competitive bidding options in the world of transit can get Georgia moving again. McCutchen is right on target.

Georgians, no matter where they live, need more transportation choices for residents, visitors and freight. The ninth-largest state in the nation continues to grow, as do its numbers of seniors and persons with disabilities. Also affected by a lack of transportation choices are those who need to get to jobs but have no personal vehicle to get to them. The business community understands this need; employers continue to call for additional ways to help workers get to their jobs.

Marketing the state as a world-class place to live and do business hardly works when a less-than-world-class multimodal transportation system must handle the needs of a complex and sophisticated world economy. Unfortunately, sooner or later, the rest of the world is going to notice that our words don’t match our actions.

Until now, automobile-oriented Georgians haven’t found much to support in proposed transit improvements. That support will come only if policy-makers can demonstrate that multimodal transportation projects are being done in the most cost-effective manner possible, are being run with good business sense using the customer-service concept of mobility management, and are forging partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Public transportation service will thrive when transit systems adopt quality performance standards and service for their riders. They must embrace information technology to maximize operating efficiency and enhance service. They must also be open to new ways of transit delivery.

MARTA, Georgia’s largest transit operator, commissioned a performance audit from KPMG. It took the highly critical audit to get the agency’s attention. The audit called for MARTA to rethink the process by which it operates, recommending a number of areas in which MARTA should outsource functions.

Despite the MARTA focus, KPMG’s recommendations also have the potential to improve  transit systems across Georgia. Here are some considerations:

  • The nation’s well-respected transit systems partner with others to deliver transportation service – using private, nonprofit or faith-based transportation providers, for example. 
  • Transit systems in Denver, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco, to name but a few, actively reach out to private sector, nonprofit and faith-based entities to build mobility management systems for their regions. Employees of these transit systems don’t think of their business partners as “the enemy,” but as welcome team members, each contributing to the overall mission of providing public transportation service.
  • These mobility management systems comprise public, private and nonprofit transportation providers linked together through information technology to accomplish the job of moving people to their destinations.
  • In these systems, a “total transportation team,” works to deliver efficient, cost-effective service. Where it’s done well, users navigate the myriad transportation providers seamlessly, without concern for which localized transit agency is “responsible.” After all, this is about transportation service, not turf wars.
  • This “partnership way of thinking” enhances transit systems. As an example, in the cities and their regions noted above, a joint partnership between the transit system and private taxi companies produced a revitalized taxi industry that delivers higher quality, more economical paratransit service. These partnerships also expanded trip choices for seniors and the disabled. It’s not a bad concept for the Atlanta region, where a bit of “revitalization” in this area would be welcomed..l
  • This has been done elsewhere, and it works. Paratransit service is just one suggested area for improvement in KPMG’s MARTA study, but is relevant elsewhere in Georgia as well. So are other suggestions for transit service enumerated in the audit.

Improving transit is not a matter of reinventing the wheel: Georgia’s transit systems could and should look to successes in other states for guidance. Public support is strong for more transportation options. Even in the cities cited previously, which have strong union traditions, there is an understanding that success is about building partnerships.  Public agencies, taxi, limousine, private bus, and public and private university transit shuttle service companies, and non-profit and faith-based transportation providers, can unite. These strong regional transit systems can become seamless when tied together by IT-driven applications.

Georgia has the home-grown talent to accomplish the IT portion and all the other component parts of a mobility management system. All that is necessary is the political will and a public sector transit system mindset to make it happen.

John Keys, a consultant on transportation and mobility management issues who has worked on transportation policy at the state and local levels, submitted this commentary to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent, state-focused 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 (November 9, 2012). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.

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