ATLANTA -- State lawmakers are considering modifications to MARTA and other local bus systems that could change mass transit as we know it. They want to create an umbrella agency that would streamline transit systems in 13 counties. The governor says he’s open to it.
Northeast of Atlanta, you’ve got Gwinnett transit. Northwest, you’ll find Cobb Community transit. Over here, there’s this thing called GRTA, a bus line that connects downtown with various suburbs. And alongside it all, there’s MARTA, with its expensive but mostly-efficient trains, and its buses that travel across three metro counties.
It’s a grab-bag of transit systems that all operate separately in an increasingly-connected metro Atlanta region.
"We have 11 separate transit operators in a 13-county region around the metro area," said state Rep. Kevin Tanner, who adds that getting from a bus operated by one system to another bus operated by another system isn’t exactly easy.
"We want to set a framework up so that can be changed, and so we can have a seamless system around metro Atlanta," Tanner said.
The new framework would likely access all the region’s transit systems with a single phone app. It could have a single name, like “the ATL.” And the framework would also come with state funding. That’s a big deal. Georgia is the only state in America that doesn’t provide state tax dollars to any of its local public transit systems. Governor Nathan Deal says that will be a big hurdle for lawmakers.
"The big step obviously is going to require the general assembly to come to a consensus on whether we fund light rail or transportation of any sort other than buses," Deal said Wednesday.
Lawmakers have been shopping the plan to local governments. Tanner says many of those governments have said they would love to have somebody else running their transit systems. The bill likely drops sometime in February.