State Rep. Kevin Tanner’s House Bill 511, which could pave the way for transit expansion across Georgia, picked up a key endorsement as well as some opposition Monday. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

State board objects to Georgia transit bill provisions

The first sign of opposition to a sweeping Georgia transit bill surfaced Monday, as the State Transportation Board said it could not support the legislation in its current form.

But the legislation also picked up a key endorsement.

House Bill 511 could lay the groundwork for transit expansion across Georgia — much as similar legislation did last year for metro Atlanta.

HB 511 would generate tens of millions of dollars for transit by replacing the state sales tax on rides for hire with a 50-cent flat fee for taxi, limousine and ride-hailing rides and a 25-cent fee for shared rides. It also would divide Georgia outside of metro Atlanta into eight zones for the purposes of transit funding and planning.

On Monday, the ride-hailing company Uber issued a statement supporting the legislation. The agency said its services complement public transportation, and it said the bill “encourages more shared rides and strengthens public transportation throughout the state.”

But the State Transportation Board — which oversees the Georgia Department of Transportation — objected to provisions in the bill that would consolidate state transit operations in a single new agency, the Georgia Department of Mobility and Innovation. Those operations are currently split among six agencies, including GDOT, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Community Health.

The new agency would also oversee the State Road and Tollway Authority, which, among other things, oversees Xpress bus service in metro Atlanta and helps fund some road construction by issuing bonds. Currently, the SRTA is administratively attached to GDOT.

On Monday, the State Transportation Board approved a resolution asking lawmakers to keep transit and the SRTA under GDOT’s purview.

At a special called meeting, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry told the board that removing transit functions from his agency could hinder multimodal developments such as the metro Atlanta express lanes. In addition to accommodating motorists who pay a toll, the lanes will also accommodate bus rapid transit vehicles.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, says creating a single state agency responsible for transit would ensure it’s a top priority, rather than an afterthought in a larger agency.

For example, GDOT’s primary focus is on building and maintaining roads, though it also plays a role in general aviation, ports, waterways and other transportation modes. Just 22 of its roughly 3,900 employees are devoted to transit.

Under HB 511, employees at GDOT and other agencies who deal with transit would be shifted to the new agency.

McMurry welcomed HB 511’s transit funding and planning provisions. And he said GDOT has been working with other state agencies to ensure their transit work is done as efficiently as possible.

Tanner is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which is expected to take up the bill Tuesday. He said Monday that he has a good relationship with the Transportation Board and looks forward to working with it on the bill.

The bill has the support of House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who last week called it “part of the House’s continuing commitment to improving transit across Georgia.”

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.

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