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In the decades-long battle between public transportation and the private automobile in metropolitan Atlanta, the private automobile has been the clear winner. Significant road construction has occurred, and ridership on public transportation has been declining. Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the U.S., and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution cites a Texas A&M research study that reports Atlanta commuters spent 77 hours stuck in traffic in 2017, which was 20 hours more than just a few years prior.
The city’s transit system, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) was formed in 1971 after it purchased the assets of the Atlanta Transit System, which operated public bus service in the city and surrounding areas. When MARTA came along, the city’s bus service was rebranded and modified, and construction of a heavy rail transit system began. MARTA’s initial rail lines paralleled the major railroads serving the city, from city center to the northeast, city center to the southwest and the airport, and center city to the east and west. The agency also built a heavy rail line from the city center to north Fulton County. With the exception of this line, which extends into prosperous communities just north of Interstate 285 (the perimeter highway around Atlanta), the other lines terminate within the boundaries of I-285. In other words, MARTA rail has not been embraced by most suburbs.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also reports that only 4% of Atlanta metro commuters avail themselves of public transportation, yet 82% commute alone by private automobile.
The AJC also reports that last year, the Georgia legislature created the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority, generally referred to as The ATL Board or The ATL. The new agency is charged with overseeing the expansion of mass transit in the Atlanta region with a proposed budget of $27.4 billion. The plan would include more rail and more busses, and rebranding of the system from MARTA to the ATL within a few years. The extent of the system’s expansion, though, will be determined by the voters in the 13 counties included in the plan.
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