The House Study Committee on Regional Transit Solutions held its first full meeting this morning, hearing from five speakers that set the table for future discussions on the issues of transit governance and transit funding. Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry told the committee that there was no one size solution available to address all of the regions transportation needs, and that transit, express lanes, and traditional roads and bridges were all part of the answer.
The bulk of the meeting was a presentation by the Atlanta Regional Committee’s manager of Government Affairs Scott Haggard and manager of mobility services Cain Williamson. Saying that transit in the region was at a critical inflection point, Haggard walked the committee through a history of transit, including the creation of MARTA in the 70s, expansion of the system in the 90s and the addition of other systems, including Gwinnett and Cobb County transit systems and GRTA.
The early 2000s saw the creation of several planning boards dealing with transit, including the Transit Planning Board, the Transit Implementation Board, and the Regional Transit Committee, which continues to meet today. While these organizations worked to increase cooperation between the different operators in things like signage and fares, they were unable to pass any meaningful legislation dealing with transit governance or funding.
Haggard listed a number of considerations that the study committee (and its matching Senate committee) should address when considering how to move people around Atlanta and the state in 20 years:
- What is our statewide vision for transit?
- What is the permanent funding source for transit?
- How can the state better facilitate service coordination?
- How can we best connect economic centers statewide and regionally?
- What changes are necessary in governance structures?
- How can we preserve local decision-making and empower local funding innovation?
While no decisions were made at the meeting, Committee member Calvin Smyre summarized a key question that must be addressed: If the state is going to provide funding for transit systems, whether in metro Atlanta or elsewhere, then how much of a role should it have in deciding how those funds should be spent?
If the committee can come up with an answer to that question, then it will be possible to address more practical issues, including whether it is better to use bus or rail, and what types of service should be offered.