Strong support for transit across metro Atlanta, survey shows

A new Atlanta Regional Commission survey shows half of metro residents are willing to pay higher taxes for transit expansion.

A new Atlanta Regional Commission survey shows half of metro residents are willing to pay higher taxes for transit expansion.

An overwhelming majority of metro Atlanta residents say public transportation is very important to the region’s future, and half say they’re willing to pay higher taxes to expand it, a new survey shows.

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) survey, released Friday, also found nearly half of residents believe transit is the best way to address the region’s traffic problems.

The survey results come as momentum for expanding mass transit has picked up steam across the region. Atlanta and Clayton County are finalizing voter-approved transit expansion plans. Gwinnett County voters will decide whether to join MARTA in March. FultonDeKalb and Cobb counties also are preparing for transit expansions.

“When voters have had the opportunity, they have voted with their wallets to get more transit,” MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe said. “It’s a priority for them.”

The regional commission will unveil the results of its “Metro Atlanta Speaks” public opinion survey at its annual State of the Region Breakfast in Atlanta Friday morning. Researchers at Kennesaw State University surveyed 5,450 people in 13 metro counties about quality of life issues. It’s the sixth consecutive year the ARC has taken the pulse of the region’s residents.

The latest results show transportation remains residents’ top concern – 28 percent of those surveyed said it was the biggest problem facing metro Atlanta. Another 22 percent identified crime as the top concern, followed by public education (7 percent) and human services (7 percent).

In a sign that the Great Recession continues to fade into memory, just 6 percent of metro Atlantans surveyed said the economy is their top concern. That’s down from 24 percent who cited the economy in 2013, when the recovery from the recession was still young.

Though economic concerns have ebbed in recent years, the survey results suggest many residents still struggle to make ends meet.

Nearly 17 percent said they had skipped meals or reduced portions for lack of money. And 26 percent of respondents said they could not pay for a $400 emergency expense or would have sell or pawn something or borrow money to cover the expense.

Other survey findings underscore the importance of transportation to metro Atlanta residents:

*A whopping 73 percent of respondents said public transportation was very important to the region, a similar level of support found in previous surveys. Residents of Atlanta and DeKalb were the biggest transit supporters, with more than 80 percent of respondents saying it was very important. Residents of Douglas County – which is planning its first fixed-route bus service – were least likely to identify public transportation as very important (54 percent).

*Nearly 48 percent of metro Atlanta residents said public transit is the best long-term solution to traffic problems – about the same as last year, but significantly more than in 2013, when 41 percent said transit was the best solution.

*Across the region, 50 percent of residents strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, “I am willing to pay more in taxes to fund expanded regional public transit that includes buses and rail.”

That finding follows the General Assembly's decision this year to allow metro Atlanta counties to raise sales taxes for transit expansion, with voter approval.

“People are open to the notion of paying for it, because they see it as something of value for their lives,” said ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker. “If I were an elected official, I wouldn’t be hesitant to start conversations (about transit) in my community.”

In March, Gwinnett residents will consider approving a 1-cent sales tax to extend MARTA rail to Norcross and to expand bus service. The survey shows half of Gwinnett residents are willing to pay more for transit.

That’s lower than last year’s survey, which showed 56 percent of Gwinnett residents were willing to pay more. But KSU surveyed residents, not likely voters, so the results may not be a good gauge of whether the Gwinnett referendum will pass.

Ashe said he’s not surprised by the support for transit demonstrated in the ARC survey. He said there’s a growing demand for more transit, even in areas like Atlanta that have already approved expansions.

“It is an increasingly important part of economic prosperity and opportunity in the 21st century,” Ashe said. “That belief continues to spread throughout metro Atlanta.”