Tuesday’s Atlanta Press Club featured a distinguished panel of regional transit experts that addressed a range of topics related to regional transit projects and programs. The panel included Heather Alhadeff, President of Center Forward; Becky Katz, Chief Bicycle Officer for the City of Atlanta; Paul Morris, CEO of the BeltLine; Keith Parker, CEO of MARTA; and Chris Thomlinson, Executive Director, Georgia Regional Transit Authority and State Road and Tollway Authority, and was moderated by Maria Saporta.
The panelists commented on topics like the history of progress in regional transit, the barriers to government collaboration around transit, the role of the state government in transit funding and the opportunity to levy tax dollars for transit that could go before voters in the City as early as this November. Panelists agreed that the region has improved its infrastructure and the public perception of transit, but that the area has a lot of room to grow with regards to connectivity and serving the majority of residents. Speakers commented on the importance of recognizing that trip types and transit use will evolve as more transit becomes available and viable; not all transit use in the future will be used to connect people from their homes to their workplaces.
The conversation focused more on history and context and less on specifics of implementation, metrics for success or development tactics. Rarely did panelists dive into specific, pervasive challenges of transit in Atlanta other than to point to historical examples. Keith Parker, however, did make an important point about equity as transit develops, saying that mass transit can be a great engine of opportunity for the region. Specifically, Parker mentioned that he hopes to make extensive improvements to the bus service that MARTA runs, to ensure that each ride is dignified, attractive and contributes to the sense of Atlanta as a world class city.
An upcoming ballot referendum could provide the opportunity to expand bus service in this way, and give transit-dependent communities in our region an important leg-up in mobility and access to economic opportunity. Due to state legislation that was passed in this session, residents of the City of Atlanta may have the opportunity to vote on an extra half-penny sales tax to provide up to $2.5 billion in funding for transit-related projects. The project list and distribution plan for that revenue is being developed, and the City Council is expected to approve the measure to get on the ballot in November of this year.
In the coming weeks, Southface will focus coverage on this important upcoming vote that could address infrastructure expansion and operational funding for transit projects throughout the city. Southface and the TransFormation Alliance, a coalition of organizations from the private, public and nonprofit sectors dedicated to creating mixed-income communities anchored by transit and linked to opportunity, hope to encourage voters and decision-makers alike to consider the implications that the referendum will have on equitable development in the city.
As public engagement mechanisms are put in place and the process goes forward, the TransFormation Alliance will advocate for transit funding to be distributed to aid transit-dependent populations in the city as well as provide strong infrastructure that support the attraction of businesses and talent.
Follow us as we continue to convene discussions around this important issue, including at the June Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable.