Opinion Forum

Transit now a statewide focus in Georgia

Miami-Dade prosecutors on Monday charged more than a dozen people as part of a suspected cargo-theft ring that targeted tractor-trailers throughout Florida and Georgia.
Miami-Dade prosecutors on Monday charged more than a dozen people as part of a suspected cargo-theft ring that targeted tractor-trailers throughout Florida and Georgia. AP Photo

While most of Georgia’s political attention was given to elections over the past few months, some have remained working diligently if not somewhat quietly on policy matters. A lot has occurred to advance Georgia’s transit options, both for metro Atlanta and the rest of the state.

In Atlanta, the governing board of The ATL – the metro region’s new integrated transit oversight agency – has been appointed. Sixteen people, chaired by Georgia Power’s Charles Sutlive, are charged with developing and implementing a seamless system among various transit providers within the 13 county Atlanta region.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is the highest profile name elected to the board. Her inclusion is significant as Atlanta is embarking on a $2.7 billion transit expansion at the core of MARTA’s existing network. Bottoms was focused mostly on assembling her cabinet as the underlying legislation creating The ATL worked its way through the legislature. Her election is a very public statement that the city will continue to have a seat at the table as transit adds a suburban focus.

An equally important inclusion on the board is signified by the election of Cobb County’s Earl Ehrhart. He is a retiring Cobb County legislator and longtime MARTA critic. As only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only Ehrhart can bring rail or bus rapid transit to Cobb.

Other board members are a cross section of commerce, government, and academia. They include such names as Comcast’s Andy Macke, mega developer Mark Toro, Lawrenceville City Manager Chuck Worthington DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, and Clayton County Commissioner Felicia Franklin Warner.

That’s the Atlanta story. Transit is now a story told in Georgia with three parts. Legislation for the rest of Georgia has been the focus of the same study committee that produced The ATL ‘s legislation. The group has further divided their solution sets into other non-Atlanta metro areas (think Savannah, Macon, Columbus, etc) and rural Georgia.

The thought process of the division was relatively simple. Atlanta was an incredibly complex web of logistics and turf battles. A “one size fits all” piece of legislation for transit affecting the entire state would likely confuse the issue further by bringing others to the table that didn’t have Atlanta’s issues nor as direct stake in a solution.

That said, the transit issues facing the rest of the state are real, and need their own solution set. The same principle applies to non-Atlanta metro areas and rural Georgia. While “transit” is an all-encompassing name, the structure of metro and rural transit agencies invites a comparison between apples and oranges.

Rural transit includes such services as non-emergency medical transport, van pools for workforce and workforce development, and senior services, among others. The state currently operates many of these services within existing agency silos. Breaking down the barriers between agencies and centralizing these functions where possible is among the chief priorities of the task force looking at how to improve mobility for rural Georgians.

Work will continue to find an organizational structure that works to allow local input on transit and transportation needs yet consolidates state oversight into one agency, or at least eliminates duplication of existing services among agencies. Think of it as a “getting more bang for the existing buck” starting point.

From there, the committee is preparing to present to legislators more comprehensive solutions to expand mobility in the rest of Georgia. Proponents don’t want the message to be about transit, per se, but more about improved health care delivery, education and workforce options, and ultimately, improved economic development for rural and non-metro Atlanta parts of Georgia.

It’s all about keeping Georgia moving forward. To do that, all Georgians need the ability to move about. It’s not just mobility, but upward mobility – for Georgians and Georgia.

Charlie Harper is the Marietta Georgia based publisher of GeorgiaPol.com and the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, which focuses on policy issues of Business Climate, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation.