Transit bill could benefit metro Atlanta

A bill that could pave the way for transit expansion across Georgia cleared its first hurdle Tuesday, with an amendment that could benefit metro Atlanta.

House Bill 511 would raise tens of millions of dollars for transit by imposing a 50-cent fee for taxi, limousine and ride-hailing service rides, and a 25-cent fee on shared rides. The fee would replace the state's existing sales tax on rides for hire. It would generate an estimated $30 million to $60 million annually for transit.

The money would be used to pay for pilot programs that would provide transit vouchers or credits to unemployed residents in parts of rural Georgia and tax credits for companies who subsidize their employees’ transportation to work.

HB 511 also would divide the state outside metro Atlanta into eight zones for transit funding and planning purposes. And it would consolidate state transit functions into a single new agency.

The bill cleared the House Transportation Committee by a unanimous vote Tuesday morning. The committee approved several amendments, including one that would set aside up to $1.5 million in funding for transit projects in metro Atlanta.

Under the amendment, grants of up to $500,000 each would be available for three pilot programs in the 13-county Atlanta area. One project would seek to address “last-mile connectivity” – helping transit riders to get to and from transit stations or bus stops.

A second pilot project would address underserved low-income areas without transit access. A third would seek to close gaps between transit services. The grants would be awarded on a competitive basis.

Like other bills, HB 511 must be approved by the full House of Representatives by Thursday to remain alive for this legislative session.