At the center of this debate lies MARTA, with its iron cross of heavy rail lines that don’t stretch much beyond the I-285 Perimeter. What role will MARTA play as the metro area learns in coming months — as it must — to sing on the same page?
MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott, for her part, seems open to negotiating a new reality that could mean big changes for the transit agency funded by the city of Atlanta and the counties of DeKalb and Fulton.
During a recent breakfast meeting at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Scott said the area’s critical challenge is to create a unified, multicounty transit system. “I really don’t care what it’s called, I really don’t care who functions and operates it, let’s figure it out. Personally ... put everybody out of business, change the governance, knock off all the things to effectively streamline it,” she said.
Call that re-engineering in business parlance. That’s just what the far-ranging HB277 requires Atlanta to do as a region. The law calls for the creation of a Transit Governance Study Commission. The new body has only until year’s end to make a report to the governor and legislative leaders.
With the clock ticking rapidly toward this deadline, the study commission has a heavy agenda to work through. That shouldn’t stop it from thinking boldly about best practices for the region. Now’s not the time for incremental tinkering intended to protect political turf.
The cities that compete with Atlanta for jobs and the benefits they bring understand the R-word and have acted accordingly. That’s why there’s a Regional Transportation Authority in Chicago that oversees budgets and broad planning for the agencies that operate buses, subway lines and commuter trains traversing three states.
In Dallas, which has on average 98 fewer people per square mile than Atlanta, a regional transit agency oversees everything from commuter rail to shuttle buses and HOV lanes.
During the AJC’s transportation breakfast, we were encouraged that disparate constituencies voiced a similar vision of what needs to be done. Said MARTA’s Scott: “The issue of connecting transportation to jobs is a really important thing. We’re all talking about jobs and the recovery of our economy.”
We know what needs to be done. Now we must do it.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board
Atlanta Forward: We look at major issues Atlanta must address in order to move forward as the economy recovers.
Look for the designation “Atlanta Forward,” which will identify these discussions.