The Atlanta Streetcar makes its way up Peachtree Street. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Bob Andres/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Streetcar won’t tap existing MARTA funds

When MARTA takes over operations of the Atlanta Streetcar, it won’t create a financial burden on the rest of the public transit system.

Sales taxes paid by residents of Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties will continue to be dedicated to existing rail and bus operations, according to the city of Atlanta.

Future funding for the 2.7-mile streetcar, which cost $99 million to build, will come from a half-penny sales tax for MARTA approved by Atlanta voters in November. That tax is expected to raise $2.5 billion over 40 years for improvements to the transit system.

"When the Atlanta Streetcar is absorbed into MARTA, its operations will be paid for through this funding stream,” said Atlanta spokeswoman Jenna Garland in an email.

Mayor Kasim Reed announced this month that MARTA will take over the Atlanta Streetcar, with hopes that it will someday connect to the Atlanta Beltline and resume offering free rides.

Details of the Atlanta Streetcar’s transition to MARTA will take months to negotiate. No timeline has been announced for the change in management.

“We are working with city officials to come to an intergovernmental agreement surrounding future operations of the streetcar,” said MARTA spokesman Erik Burton.

MARTA recently took the first official step towards acquiring the streetcar, which is currently hemorrhaging cash.

When the Atlanta Streetcar began charging $1 per ride last year, ridership initially declined but has since grown 10 percent during the first five months of 2017.

But passenger fares cover only about 4.5 percent of the cost of operating the streetcar. Fares are estimated to account for $237,650 of the streetcar’s $5.3 million operating and maintenance budget for 2017, according to city budget figures.

The rest of the streetcar’s funding comes from federal grants, Atlanta Downtown Improvement District contributions, Atlanta car rental and hotel/motel taxes, and advertising revenue.

Meanwhile, the streetcar has addressed dozens of safety concerns from state regulators who threatened to shut it down. 

The Georgia Department of Transportation reported this month that city officials have fixed or are on track to fix 66 safety and maintenance problems cited in state and federal audits.

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