Atlanta Forward / Another View: Region deserves a transit transformation

Today, the entire Atlanta region stands at a crossroads in terms of regional transit. Clayton County’s popular bus service ended March 31st. Our two largest regional operators — MARTA and GRTA — are both teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and our other suburban transit operators are on life support. To put it mildly, this is not a pretty picture for a major metropolitan area.

It is certainly an easy option to continue non-productive sparring back and forth while other regions and states outpace us. Or, we can make a genuine regional commitment to get “unstuck” and take a quantum leap forward for a common goal and good.

Metro Atlanta has a real opportunity to rise above narrow self-interest, petty partisanship and the remaining vestiges of racial bigotry. By doing so, we would have an invaluable opportunity to build a world-class transit system befitting our world-class aspirations. Metro Atlanta deserves a transit system that all of us will be proud to use and call our own because it is equitably and sustainably funded, prudently governed and efficiently operated. It should be part of a legacy that we can pass on to future generations as a downpayment on our continued prosperity.

At MARTA, as the largest public transit operator in the southern United States, we have been privileged to serve this community for almost four decades. As we all look toward a bigger and brighter future, we stand committed to working in good faith with our member jurisdictions, regional partners and the state of Georgia to create the transit “transformation” that will be required to effectively serve our growing region.

By any standard, duplication of transit services and assets, lack of coordinated fares, services and customer communications, continued balkanization and competing federal funding priorities is not smart. Perhaps, the one silver lining in these tough economic times is the challenge of maximizing limited resources to best serve the public interest. When it comes to improving transportation and transit, we must figure out “How We Can; and not Why We Can’t.”

The Georgia General Assembly’s recent passage of HB 277, the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, which was signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue last week, definitely requires some tweaking. At the same time, it represents a major step forward for our region and for our state. In the 2011 legislative session, we must all take the next critical steps to ensure fairness and equity for our entire region so we can move forward — together.

Beverly A. Scott is general manager and CEO of MARTA.