The Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is, by a wide margin, Georgia's largest transit agency, let alone Metro Atlanta’s. It has both the largest transit operations budget, and largest ridership of any agency in the state. Despite its current limits, MARTA is already the 9th largest transit agency in the nation by ridership, serving nearly 350,000 riders a day in 2017. As the agency moves forward with its planned expansions, more companies and developers build near existing transit lines, and the metro in general grows, MARTA’s value is sure to soar beyond even the premium it offers today.
MARTA's history stretches back to the 1960s, when the Atlanta area first started recognizing the need for public transit as part of the region's future.
Since those early days, MARTA has spent the last half century building a history of transit operations, large expansions, and political action. Though the agency has had its ups and downs, it has learned from its experiences, building a base of knowledge rivaled by no other transit operator in the state.
MARTA has decades worth of practice at designing, building, and operating both a large-scale urban bus network and high-capacity rail transit. MARTA has further, in depth knowledge of the political workings needed to work the most from local funds, by matching them against federal backing to extend the reach of projects even further.
MARTA is the only agency in the state, let alone the metro, with the history and practical knowledge for a large-scale undertaking of bringing world-class transit to the third largest county in the state.
Gwinnett county will have a few different guards in place to ensure that the county's interests are being met. First, Gwinnett with have three appointees to the MARTA Board, as assigned by state law. Additionally, any tax revenue collected within Gwinnett is, with the exception of a portion agreed to fund overall agency operations in exchange for access to the larger system, required to be used to the benefit of Gwinnett. To enforce this, the county government must approve of any debt issued by MARTA using funds collected within the county for projects serving the county.
Additional controls are in place, including, but not limited to, an agreement that MARTA will work with the county when designing future Transit Oriented Development, an agreement for MARTA and Gwinnett to jointly plan all projects, and for Gwinnett to control eminent domain for MARTA's projects within the county.
Ultimately, Gwinnett will have the strongest set of protections of any of MARTA’s counties to date, ensuring that its needs will be met, while at the same time working to integrate into the wider system so that everything works together as best as possible.
You may read a summary of the contract here if you would like.
A Regional View
The addition of Gwinnett to the MARTA system will bring the agency one step closer to its initial vision as an agency to serve the most dense, most populated core of Metro Atlanta. Four of the five central counties will be within MARTA’s service area, enabling a it to build a truly robust, urban transit system that our metro's densifying and growing core needs to sustain its growth.
Each additional county enables MARTA to better serve all existing counties, as well as the newcomer, building off of each and every county’s projects to provide holistic services that would not have otherwise been available. Gwinnett has the opportunity to join Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton as they grow this transit network into a much wider, comprehensive system fitting of the core metro.
MARTA has come a long way since the days of mismanagement and service cuts that marked the agency during the great recession. The agency is now, after auditing its internal finances and implementing the suggested changes, operating with an annual surplus. This has allowed the agency to tackle needed maintenance before it could become a major issue, replace aging vehicle fleets, and begin increasing service again. With a large reserve fund, the agency is well prepared to handle emergencies.
Furthermore, with the lifting of the state's mandated 50/50 budgeting and good financial stewardship, the agency has the highest bond rating available to it, speaking to investors' confidence in the agency.
MARTA is in a strong position to make the most of Gwinnett’s transit funds, and joining it with the explosive amount of expansions already underway, and planned in the near-future.
MARTA has a wide-range of plans from large-scale, high-capacity transit projects to smaller, route specific improvements. Many of these projects are already under way, and many more soon will be as well.
By joining MARTA, Gwinnett would be joining a system that is in the process of actively growing to better serve its existing counties. Any additional projects built in Gwinnett would simply be adding to the reach of an already quickly expanding system, bringing more and more trip destinations and origins into easy access of alternative travel options.
City of Atlanta Expansions
In November 2016, the City of Atlanta voted to raise the MARTA sales tax by a half percent, dedicating at least $2.5 Billion to transit expansions. In October 2018, MARTA’s Board approved a final $2.7 Billion worth of projects to receive local funding, and compete for federal funding as part of the More MARTA expansion efforts.
More MARTA increases access to 350,000 jobs through 125 Atlanta neighborhoods by planning to build 22 miles of brand new Light Rail Transit, 14 miles of brand new Bus Rapid Transit, and 26 miles of brand new Arterial Rapid Transit. More MARTA also funds multiple system improvements within the City of Atlanta by refurbishing train stations, building new transit centers, increasing over all bus service, rebuilding pedestrian infrastructure, and overhauling bus-stops throughout the city.
All of these projects will extend the usefulness of the current MARTA system, and will make it even more far-reaching. The network affect will greet a newly joined Gwinnet with incredible coverage of core-metro destinations.
Additional High-Capacity Expansions
MARTA has a series of longer-term visions for both extending existing high-capacity routes, as well as building brand new routes. These will serve dense and congested parts of the metro needing service in addition to the improvements coming about through More MARTA.
The routes will extend Bus Rapid Transit north along the GA 400 Corridor to the northern Fulton boarder, both Heavy Rail and Bus Rapid Transit east along the I-20 Corridor to the eastern DeKalb boarder, Light Rail Transit from Lindbergh to Avondale stations, through the Emory and CDC area, and the metro’s first Commuter Rail line from East Point station to Lovejoy through Clayton County.
Each route is in a different state of completion, though all are moving forward, with some partially funded today.
All together, these routes will bring new high-capacity transit access to hundreds of thousands of jobs and residents, and add further utility to any additional expansions Gwinnett brings to the system.
Comprehensive Operations Analysis
The Comprehensive Operations Analysis (COA) was a detailed look at MARTA's operations, and represents a full plan for redesigning the system's bus services and routes. It is from this plan, that the multitude of bus service types were developed, and where the routings for MARTA's frequent bus services were born. This plan is set to be implemented over ten years, but has already started with the first route changes having started service at the beginning of 2017.
Different parts of this system overhaul are in different states of completion, depending on location. More MARTA has funded quite a few initial changes, and promises to fund even more as the program matures. Fulton and DeKalb will both see their own improvements, as well as quite a few beyond the COA, as their own transit expansion plans shape up, and MARTA expansion funding is secured.