Friday, August 31, 2012

Despite T-SPLOST loss, regional transit governance overhaul still a possibility

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 4:42 PM

Many bus and rail advocates, ourselves included, were disappointed during the most recent Gold Dome legislative session when it became apparent that state lawmakers wouldn't overhaul transit governance in metro Atlanta. But local, regional, and state officials still plan to wrangle metro Atlanta's myriad bus and rail systems.

Dave Williams from the Atlanta Business Chronicle says state lawmakers are "working quietly to resurrect a transit governance overhaul that flopped during this year’s General Assembly session amid criticism that it amounted to a state takeover of MARTA.":

“At the core of any transit governance bill or structure, there has to be fairness,” said Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, one of the bill’s leading critics, who went on more recently to oppose the transportation tax referendum. “The people who ought to govern are the people who put money in the pot.”

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, who co-sponsored this year’s bill, conceded that it must be rewritten to answer opponents’ objections if it is to stand any chance of passage.

“You’ve got to have buy-in from all the parties at the table,” he said.

Miller said legislative leaders have been meeting informally to reshape the bill into something that
would gain more support.

Sonny Deriso, the board chairman of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, told Williams he thinks that this summer's T-SPLOST defeat showed that metro Atlantans "don’t like the direction elected officials and transit administrators were heading with transit and want something different." Kremlinologists will note that this line sounds eerily similar to the line trotted out by Gov. Nathan Deal, who appoints the GRTA board, after the transportation tax failed. Meaning, Deriso might be channeling the governor's feelings on the topic.

Should nothing move forward under the Gold Dome on the issue — a very real possibility at the Capitol — there's always the work that's been done at the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Once it was clear the governor's state-heavy proposal wouldn't fly under the Gold Dome, the Regional Transit Committee, an ARC committee chaired by Mayor Kasim Reed that includes regional leaders and transit honchos, started examining what was possible without legislative action.

That group, at Reed's behest, launched a fact-finding legal review that examines whether some duties of a regional transit agency — think sharing maintenance facilities, allowing transfers between systems, shared schedules, etc. — could be carried out between counties with intergovernmental agreements.

"We thought that rather than waiting to see what happens, we should look at some of the possible options," ARC Chairman Tad Leithead told us in July.

The RTC's legal eagles, last we heard, were looking at what was allowed under its own charter and the charters of metro Atlanta's transit systems, including MARTA, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, Cobb Community Transit, and Gwinnett County Transit. Numerous sources said the group gave other transportation agencies and state officials, including Gov. Nathan Deal's office, the heads up.

The review was expected to be finished around this time and ARC officials are checking on its status for us. It's a holiday weekend so we might not have any details until Tuesday.

Now, we know what you're thinking. Sharing maintenance facilities? That sounds kind of boring. There's no new name or logo. The racists of metro Atlanta demand a new transit system acronym to ridicule! But the small steps might lead to more cooperation between agencies, which could lead to more progress. And considering the state's shown itself to be no leader when it comes to transit, the metro region has to find its own way.

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