With a population of 5,522,942 people, the metropolitan Atlanta region is the 9th largest metro area in the United States. A recent long-range forecast conducted by the Atlanta Regional Commission expects the population to exceed previous forecasts and reach 8 million people by 2040. Significant growth is expected in both existing suburbs and the region’s Buckhead/Midtown/Downtown core.
Atlanta is unique from other large cities in the United States as its size and growth was not significantly constrained by geographical features such as lakes or rivers. The absence of limiting geographical features has greatly contributed to the region’s sprawl, creating transportation challenges throughout the region.
While a robust interstate system and rapid transit system consisting of rail and bus routes serve the region, limitations in the region’s transportation network continue to plague residents. According to a recent poll by the Atlanta Regional Commission:
- 69% of the region considers it “very important” or “important” to have public transit options available where you live.
- 55% of the region has made a choice regarding employment, education, or housing based on access to transit.
- 86% of the region believes connections with a regional transit network are essential for existing/future job centers to grow and be successful.
The 2014 “Metro Atlanta Speaks” poll identified transportation as the biggest problem facing residents in Atlanta, followed by the economy and public education.
Transit is top of mind for individuals across the region, but this has translated to limited action. If metro Atlanta is to remain competitive as a region, it will need to provide residents with a comprehensive and unified transit system capable of moving people conveniently and efficiently throughout the region.
Advance Atlanta aims to build public support for greater regional transit access and champion existing transit resources. A variety of transit systems serve portions of the region and these systems are a tremendous strength in the region’s effort to improve transit.
- Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority: Marta has served the Atlanta region for over 35 years. Marta is the 9th largest transit system in the U.S., providing transportation for approximately 500,000 passenger boardings each weekday (Marta, 2011). More information on Marta can be found here.
- Atlanta Streetcar: Launched in 2014, the Atlanta Streetcar operates a 2.7 mile track with 12 stops throughout Downtown Atlanta. Anticipated weekday ridership is 2,600 passengers. A May 2015 announcement stated current ridership was exceeding expectations by more than 20%. More information on the Atlanta Streetcar can be found here.
- Gwinnett County Transit: GCT began operations in 2000 with the goal of providing express, local, and paratransit services. More information on GCT can be found here.
- Cobb Community Transit: CCT began operations in 1989. In 2013, buses reported 3,628,377 million passenger trips. More information on CCT can be found here.
- Georgia Regional Transit Authority: GRTA provides the Xpress commuter coach service connecting park-and-ride lots located throughout Atlanta’s suburbs with major employment centers including Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, and Perimeter Center. Xpress provides over 2 million commutes over its 33 routes in 12 metro Atlanta counties. Xpress partners with other transit providers to offer convenient connections and free transfers to bus networks and the MARTA rail system. More information on GRTA and Xpress can be found here.
In 2014, the American Society of Engineers assigned Georgia with a D- Transit grade, lower than the D+ assigned in 2009. When assigning a grade, the report identified the following:
“Georgia’s transit systems suffer greatly from lack of coordination and funding. Without state support and additional local investment for transit operations, Georgia will continue to fall behind as federal funding continues to decrease. Additionally, as congestion increases and the population ages, the importance of transit accessibility for mobility will increase.”
The American Society of Engineers further define the issue with the following:
“Even though Georgia drivers face congestion on a daily basis, the inability of state and local agencies to provide the necessary funding for meaningful transit has created a backlog of needs that are not likely to be addressed in the near future. Metro Atlanta’s current system of multiple transit providers is inefficient, as well as time-consuming and confusing to the users. Without the proper investment in transportation infrastructure, the state stands to lose its competitive advantage in the global economy, which historical investment created. The biggest investments in highways and MARTA were made in the 1970’s to 1980’s, and the 1990’s around the Olympics.
In 2012, Georgia voters were given an opportunity to approve sales tax-based funding for transportation investments, which in the Atlanta region in particular would have provide substantial new funding for transit. Except in three largely rural regions, the referenda were defeated. Transit agencies have relied on federal funding, local funding and sales tax receipts to support services and infrastructure investment. Local transit agencies have shown that they are operating efficiently through high farebox recovery rates, but are lacking the funding support needed to provide more frequent service to attract and retain riders. In the Atlanta region, the long-range plan recommends an ambitious transit investment strategy in the region, but there is very little funding to implement large portions of the plan. Unless some different and innovative sources of funding can be found, Atlanta and Georgia risks falling behind other U.S. cities and states in attracting economic growth. Collaboration between governments is needed to establish a truly regional, accessible transit system in Georgia.”
Three recommendations from the report focus on:
- Increasing dedicated funding
- Improving transit system collaboration
- Repealing the 50/50 Marta spending mandate
Many projects and concepts exist that are aimed at improving transit infrastructure across the region. A large portion of residents believe in expanding transit. In a 2014 poll, the Atlanta Regional Commission found that 42% of the region believes expanding public transit is the best way to fix traffic problems, while 28% believe improving roads/highways is the best solution.
Concept 3 is the Atlanta region’s official long-range transit vision. More information on Concept 3 can be found here.
“The OTP-ITP identity split highlights a divided metro Atlanta. There are signs the region wants to work together to solve its problems. Yet a slew of serious economic, government, business, political and environmental divisions threaten to strangle the region’s growth, which lags that of several peer metro areas since the recession.
Metro Atlanta, an amalgam of 150 cities spread across 29 counties, is something of a poster child for regional disharmony. Fulton County alone includes 14 cities. The city of Atlanta, with only 8 percent of the region’s 5.5 million people, doesn’t have the clout to unify the region.”
— Atlanta Journal Constitution
While Atlanta has the third largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the nation, Dallas, Charlotte, and other surrounding cities are creating serious competition for business and talent.