Time to bring Ga. transit into 21st century

State Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) is sponsor of Senate Bill 330, which provides for a referendum on MARTA funding.

In my 15 years working in economic development, I’ve seen a noticeable shift that reinforces my support for the need to improve transit options in Metro Atlanta. Fifteen years ago, when a company relocated to Georgia, the corporate offices would be located in the area where the CEO wanted to live. For example, if a CEO who wanted to live in the Golf Club of Georgia, then his business would look to establish offices near Windward.

Today’s competitive demand for talent and traffic congestion has pushed CEO’s now to set up offices where the talent is — more often than not near the popular neighborhoods. The most-talented employees are in such high demand that the ability to walk to work or at least not have to drive is becoming more appealing. As effective as our state has been attracting new businesses and encouraging existing businesses to expand, our state lags behind many other states when it comes to transit options.

Seeing this need, and with bipartisan support, I have introduced legislation to empower citizens, on a county-by-county basis, to set their own destiny when it comes to expanding MARTA. Last session, the General Assembly made a big commitment to our transportation infrastructure through House Bill 170. Part of that bill allows for a county, through voter approval, to operate a five-year, 1 percent Transportation Special-Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST). My legislation, Senate Bill 330, would amend that provision to allow counties to flex out half of that penny to dedicate towards funding transit projects over a longer period of time because transit projects are not built in five years.

MARTA, as an organization, has made tremendous progress in the last few years. In 2014, MARTA ranked 27 out of 781 in vehicle use efficiency according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). In 2015, MARTA’s General Manager and CEO Keith Parker deservingly received APTA’s 2015 Outstanding Public Transportation Manager award. Over the last three years, MARTA has cut $100 million in expenses from its budget while working on innovative solutions like the UBER last-mile program.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber published a study on what MARTA expansion would mean for the region by the year 2040. It says that MARTA expansion would create nearly 45,000 additional jobs with just over 60 percent of those located within the MARTA service area. It would provide a $4.2 billion increase to personal income with the majority of this increase occurring in counties currently not serviced by MARTA. It would generate approximately $3.6 billion more in disposable income for households within the 20-county region. The expansion would contribute an additional $116 million annually in wages for the Atlanta region. Lastly, it would save commuters $1.8 billion worth of travel time and expenses.

The people of Georgia are ahead of the politicians on this issue, and they have been for some time. I will continue to work for the best possible transit options. It helps the business community, as well as citizens living and working in our state. It is time to bring transit in Georgia into the 21st century.