GDOT Threatens Street Car Shut Down

The Georgia Department of Transportation has threatened to shut down Atlanta’s beleaguered street car. The AJC’s David Wickart has the details:

In a letter to Mayor Kasim Reed and MARTA CEO Keith Parker on Monday, the Georgia Department of Transportation gave the city until June 14 to submit plans to address 60 outstanding problems outlined in the reports. If those plans are not sufficient, GDOT said, it will order the streetcar to shut down immediately.

The city and MARTA share responsibility for the $98 million system that runs in downtown Atlanta. State and federal law requires GDOT to oversee the safety and security of rail operations like the streetcar, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said.

The problems with the streetcar include poor maintenance procedures, inadequate staffing and a failure to properly investigate accidents.

McMurry said in the letter that, since the service started in December 2014, streetcar officials have failed to “provide timely, substantive and compliant responses to deficiencies identified by the department and (Federal Transportation Authority).”

The AJC has posted a full copy of McMurry’s letter here.

I haven’t written much about the debacle that is the Atlanta Street Car. I have supported most efforts thus far to improve metro Atlanta’s transit network as part of a comprehensive transportation/congestion relief plan.  The streetcar is not only a tough sell based on return on investment based on competing uses for funds, but it’s construction and implementation have been a textbook case of poor planning, under budgeting, stiffing contractors, even worse execution, and political tone deafness for this “solution” from the Mayor’s office all the way to the White House.

Let’s first make one point very clear. The statement “the City and MARTA share responsibility” is technically correct, but MARTA didn’t ask for this.  They are now, however, stuck with it.  And therein lies a large part of the problem.

MARTA has done yeoman’s work in fixing its financials, service record, and overall image. We now have a transit agency that the area can be proud of. It’s earned the responsibility to make long term capital investments in rail expansion, with the immediate step to fill an urban core within the city of Atlanta.

There is an evolving discussion at the state level of regional transit and how best to solve these mobility issues for a metro area of 5 Million people. This same metro area will likely have 7-8 Million people within a quarter century. That same quarter century is the planning horizon needed to build out a system of trains, express buses, additional toll lanes, and other forms of transportation to move those of us that are here now, as well as the future residents that are moving here at a rate of about 100,000 new Georgians per year.

It is time for Gwinnett to consider a second look. Despite the current political environment, folks in Cobb will be watching expansion efforts and financing models closely. (Settle down Cherokee and Fayette residents, no one is talking about bringing MARTA to you – especially MARTA).

Why does all of this matter? Because to the critics – especially those that fear MARTA moving closer to their counties – the Street Car can and will be used as an example of why we don’t need additional transit dollars. Bluntly, the city of Atlanta sees the Street Car as an economic development opportunity for the Sweet Auburn district. The opportunity transit critics see is to make it a poster child for transit boondoggles, and a way to stop expansion in its tracks.

The City of Atlanta has to get this street car fixed, or cut their losses. Continuing with the status quo only makes this train The Little Engine That Shouldn’t, and expansion beyond the existing MARTA footprint more difficult.

And with that, we will leave you with an interpretation of GDOT’s directive on the Street Car:

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Saltycracker
Saltycracker

We had a lot of fun on PP beating the For and a’gins of this streetcar of dreams to death. The fors were unwaiving in their build it and they will come, the a’gins pointed out the cost, usage, who was served and all those realities of responsible decisions. No one waivered and we read the joys of a couple that rode the $100 million dollar dream for free. It isn’t at and doesn’t go, and never was intended to go where the working, spending masses downtown would jump on and off…..maybe in a later dream.

Will Durant
Will Durant

A Streetcar Named Quagmire.

ChambleeDreamer
ChambleeDreamer

Even though the idea of connecting the downtown section of Atlanta seemed great, the street car just isn’t getting it done. I was under the impression it was originally targeted towards tourists, but the route leaves out a fair number of destinations. In most cases, by the time you walk to a street car stop and wait for it, you could have just walked to your destination. Transit needs to be a focus for Atlanta and the surrounding counties, but the streetcar just isn’t the way to do it.

Jean
Jean

I don’t understand the political situation well enough to know why they didn’t go with a bus based system instead. You could decorate them to be distinctive and cool, make them easy-on/easy-off, offer free rides forever and still not come close to the cost of the streetcar system. AND ….. then you could change the routes as needed – business passengers at rush, tourists during the day and on weekends …… special routes to the convention center / hotel center to take people to Sweet Auburn….. I know enough to know that there are people/businesses who benefited from the “permanent”… Read more »

Will Durant
Will Durant

Rail should always have a dedicated right-of-way. A shared right-of-way should not be on rails. YMMV, especially if you are a big multi-national corporation like Siemens.

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

“Let’s first make one point very clear. The statement “the City and MARTA share responsibility” is technically correct, but MARTA didn’t ask for this. They are now, however, stuck with it. And therein lies a large part of the problem.”

Does this mean Atlanta/Fulton can bully Marta to be financially involved their way ? If so therein lies a big part of other metro county concerns.

gt7348b
gt7348b

No, Salty. The Federal Transit Administration is requiring MARTA to be involved. At the time of the TIGER application, the City was not an FTA grantee and could not accept the grant, so MARTA applied and was the grantee on the Citys behalf.

Saltycracker
Saltycracker
Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

Streetcar ridership is 1,000 /day, compared to 230,000 daily MARTA rail ridership.

MARTA has 16 times more route miles, but much of that difference is offset when comparing passengers miles.

The $64,000 question is whether Reed’s successor will double down.

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

First mistake, the city had no business running a transit agency that they had no experience running Second mistake, if you dont have the frequency to make riding the streetcar worth your while against walking guess what, people wont ride it. Third mistake (and this should have been done in a better way), the city had no clue where some of the old utility infrastructure was located and that is what caused most of the delays. They should have had better mapping. Now that thats out of the way… What has been built out is just a small part of… Read more »

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

Sorry…forgot something. A successful streetcar system should have its own ROW…I think that was mentioned already though.