A state lawmaker says MARTA's board of directors needs to be downsized.
Levitas says a smaller board of directors could make the transit agency more efficient and place it in line with other people-moving agencies across the country.
Chicagos Transit Authority has seven members on its Board of Directors, Levitas said in a statement. The BART Board in San Francisco has nine members, and Washington, D.C.s METRO Board has only six voting members along with six alternate directors. Why does MARTA need a board of directors two-and-a-half times the size of the San Francisco Authority?
MARTA's board consists of appointed members from the City of Atlanta and Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett Counties. Representatives from the State Properties Commission and Georgia Building Authority, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, Georgia Department of Revenue and Georgia Department of Transportation serve as ex-oficio members.
Levitas' proposed bill would eliminate Clayton and Gwinnett County's board seats. The number of appointed board members from the City of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb Counties would reduce by two each. If lawmakers pass Levitas' bill as it's proposed, the GDOT commissioner would be the lone state official on the board.
In a phone interview with CL, Levitas says other counties that vote to join MARTA could receive equal representation on the board. But for now, he says, the board should represent the transit system's "true stakeholders" those who pay the one-cent sales tax that helps keep the buses and trains running.
"This appears to be a sensible approach," Lee Biola, president of the self-explanatory Citizens for Progressive Transit, says in an email. "Counties and state agencies should have to contribute to MARTA if they want a seat on its board."
A MARTA spokeswoman tells CL via email that the transit agency was "encouraged" by state lawmakers' recent interest in the system. But transit officials hope that interest ends up helping MARTA find a source of cash to avoid frequent budget crunches. (MARTA receives no funding assistance for operations from the state.)
"Because MARTA matters so much to the region and to the state, were hopeful that any discussion of our governance structure will include a dialogue with DeKalb and Fulton counties and the City of Atlanta, and will ultimately translate into a sustainable source of funding that enables MARTA and more than 100 other transit agencies across Georgia to continue providing for the critical transportation needs of the communities we serve."
And oh yeah, Levitas also hinted that the General Assembly should consider folding MARTA into GDOT a controversial topic among transit wonks and political leaders. In October, state Rep. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said he'd push for such a change during the next legislative session. Atlanta Mayor-elect Kasim Reed said on the campaign trail that he'd be willing to discuss the issue provided the state put up a bunch of cash to make due with Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb County residents who for decades have paid to build and operate the system.
"If we think the state needs to do more, I think it's certainly a relevant topic for discussion," Levitas says. "If there is a state buy-in and [MARTA's] not viewed as just an issue of Fulton and DeKalb, I think you're more likely to get support. And what our job is in the Legislature and what I think is MARTA's job in terms of public relations is making [Georgians outside the metro counties] understand why MARTA is important for the viability and prosperity of the state. It's a state issue."
He continues: "We have to lay everything on the table about MARTA, How is MARTA operating, what can we do to improve it, and what can we do to be sure it's a viable transit system? We have to have a transit system in Atlanta that's comparable to [Washington, D.C., Chicago and San Francisco's]. We have to."
(File photo courtesy House Communications Office)
Mo gibs muh 'dat.
One step forward, two steps back.
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