Georgia ranks poorly on state transit spending

Many of Georgia's top political leaders are singing the same song on public transportation. They're discussing substantial state funding for mass transit. Which begs the questions: How much does Georgia spend now, and how do we stack up compared to other states?

A state House of Representatives commission studying the issue heard the answers this week: Not much and poorly.

According to information presented by the Atlanta Regional Commission Wednesday, the state spends about $14.5 million annually on transit – much of it for Xpress bus service in the metro area (the rest is used to match federal grants). That's enough for Georgia to rank 27th among the 50 states in spending on public transportation.

But a closer look offers a different picture. According to the ARC, the Peach State ranks 37th in state spending per capita and 45th in spending per transit trip - significantly below its neighbors and the national average.

Florida, for example, spends $13.61 per capita on transit, compared to our $1.42. The national average (skewed by big-spending states like New York and Massachusetts) is $43.05.

Credit: David Wickert

Credit: David Wickert

Florida spends 99 cents per transit trip, and the national average is $1.32. Georgia spends 9 cents per trip.

Credit: David Wickert

Credit: David Wickert

Most transit funding in Georgia comes from the federal and local governments and from transit passengers themselves. The ARC noted that Georgia is the most populous state without a dedicated source of state funding for public transportation.

In 2015 state lawmakers provided $75 million for one-time grants for transit capital improvements. State Rep. Kevin Tanner, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has said any future funding could be for capital improvements instead of transit operations.

The House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding will take another year or more to digest stats like that and produce a final report. But it may produce some preliminary recommendations in time for the upcoming session of the General Assembly.