MARTA economic engine for region, study says

MARTA: Love it or hate it, more and more people need it.

The number of workers who depend on MARTA to get to their jobs — nearly 100,000 people — has tripled in the past five years, according to a just-released University of Georgia study.

Other findings by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government study include:

  • MARTA’s spending — its 2011 capital and operating budget was $617 million — supported between 20,000 and 37,000 jobs in Georgia between 2007 and 2011. The fluctuations were caused by differences in annual capital expenditures.
  • Nearly 150,000 workers in the Atlanta area, including car owners, use MARTA for their daily commute.
  • Of the 18 fastest growing industry sectors, 14 employ workers who rely heavily on MARTA.
  • Jobs supported by MARTA’s capital budget provide $500 million to $1 billion in personal income each year.
  • The economic activity of the nearly 100,000 MARTA-dependent workers support another 80,000 additional jobs.

“If MARTA didn’t exist, those 100,000 jobs and the 80,000 they support would likely go away,” said Wes Clarke, one of the UGA researchers who prepared the study on MARTA’s economic role. “It shows the magnitude of the impact of being able to get people to jobs by way of a transit system.”

The availability of public transit has played a key role in attracting the 123, 515 jobs around the Perimeter Center in DeKalb County, said Yvonne Williams, president of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts. The CIDs have four rail stations in the area serving medical centers, Perimeter Mall and office parks.

“Most of the major corporations that are here … have chosen the perimeter market for the assets of transit,” she said. “It draws employees from across the region and your high-profile corporations care about that employee footprint. We see it as a major competitive factor.”

Clarke noted that transit, which often serves low-wage employees, helps keep salaries down because companies can draw from a larger labor pool.

“You have a wider group of people who can get to the job,” he said.

The study relied on economic modeling for job calculations and MARTA ridership studies based on responses from 7,500 patrons.

Clarke said the study’s findings mirrored the findings of a similar study in 2007 and he said he expected that the impact would be similar in other cities with similar public transit. The one surprise, he said, was the finding that three times as many people were dependant on MARTA than in 2007.

He said he expected part of that hike was due to the economic downturn and the spike in gas prices.

Public transit advocate Ashley Robbins said lifestyle choices also could be affecting the ridership numbers too, especially with younger workers who aren’t as wedded to their cars.

“You are seeing a movement of younger people getting rid of their cars,” said Robbins, president of Citizens for Progressive Transit. “I know three people who have sold their cars in the past six months. … They want to live more of a sustainable lifestyle.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.