Transit for Gwinnett

The Agency Options


This page attempts to examine the various options that Gwinnett has for improving transit. Click the links immediately below this text to see profiles on each agency who either currently operates transit in Gwinnett, or could possibly operate transit in the future:

The Metropolitan Atlanta
Rapid Transit Authority

The Georgia Department
of Transportation

The Georgia Regional
Transportation Authority

Gwinnett County Transit


While this website is intended to promote and educate on transit issues, and tries to be general in the discussion, the fact of the matter is that Gwinnett has a few very specific options currently available to it in terms of both funding and operating any new transit in the county. Some of these options are better than others, while some are simply part of the overall picture of truly regional transit. Below, a few of the agencies most directly tied to transit in our state, and in Gwinnett County, are discussed for your information and consideration.

 

Agencies by the Numbers:

The table below outlines a few key metrics for the most likely transit operators in the county, comparing years of experience, and the scale of current operations. MARTA currently represents the agency with the most experience in operating a large-scale transit system.


MARTA


The Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is, by a wide margin, Atlanta's largest transit agency. 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, with the 8th largest rider/mile (2014) value in the country, serving over 430,000 riders a day. This ridership is only certain to grow as more companies and developers build near existing transit lines, the metro in general grows, and the network effect of expansion builds ridership upon itself.


Picture Credit:

Picture Credit:

Picture Credit:

Picture Credit:

Experience

MARTA's history stretches back to the 1950s, 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.

Picture Credit: David via the Sierra Club

A Regional View

Though MARTA is currently limited to operating in DeKalb, Fulton, and Clayton, it is legally allowed to operate in Cobb and Gwinnett, pending voter approval. Though this 5-county area is limited for a metro-wide system, MARTA is in a position to be the truly robust, urban transit system that our metro's densifying and growing core needs to sustain its growth.

Furthermore, any expansion of MARTA, though limited to the core, makes the jobs of other agencies easier, by providing infrastructure to launch from, and operate on.

 

Picture Credit: Brandon Walker on Flickr

Picture Credit: Brandon Walker on Flickr

Strong Standing

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.

Picture Credit: MARTA

Growing Reach

MARTA has a wide-range of plans ranging from large-scale, high-capacity transit projects to smaller, system-wide 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 growing to better serve the existing counties. Any additional projects built in Gwinnett would simply be adding to the reach of an already expanding system, bringing more and more trip destinations and originations into easy access of alternative travel options with each new route.

 

Comprehensive Operations Analysis

The Comprehensive Operations Analysis (COA) is 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. This plan is set to be implemented over ten years, but has already started with the first ART and Frequent bus routes having started service at the beginning of 2017.

Picture Credit: MARTA

High-Capacity Expansions

In addition to the system-wide bus overhaul currently underway, MARTA has a series of projects 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 improved bus system.

The routes will extend Heavy Rail lines north along the GA 400 Corridor to the northern Fulton boarder, and east along the I-20 Corridor to the eastern DeKalb boarder. With these will come a new Light Rail line from Lindbergh to Avondale stations, through the Emory and CDC area, as well as a new Bus Rapid Transit line from Five Points to I-285 along the I-20 corridor serving southeastern Atlanta and DeKalb,

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 over a half million jobs.

Picture Credit: MARTA

Picture Credit: MARTA

City of Atlanta Expansions

In November 2016, the City of Atlanta voted to rail the MARTA sales tax by a half percent, dedicating at least $2.5 Billion to transit expansions. With federal backing, the total investment could grow as large as $5 Billion.

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 supply any new county which joins the system an existing network with incredible coverage of core destinations.


GDOT


The Georgia Department Of Transportation is a truly state-wide agency tasked with planning, building, and maintaining the mobility of the state of Georgia. While GDOT represents the largest transportation agency in the state, they have little to no dedicated funding for transit, and have no experience in operating transit on any scale. Though GDOT will be a necessary party for any implementation of a state-wide system of transit, its size, and lack of local control makes it unsuited to properly handle the needs of a single metro area or county.


Picture Credit: Online Athens

Picture Credit: Online Athens

State Reach

As the state's department of transportation, GDOT has jurisdiction across all 159 counties within Georgia. This gives GDOT an immense advantage when it comes to coordinating multi-county, and regional projects, allowing it to act in ways that no local agency can.

This comes in handy for large sections of roadway construction, but is sometimes a challenge when narrowing to a local area's needs. That's not to say that GDOT ignores the say of locals when it plans its projects, but rather that the final call for a project is ultimately up to the state.

As a state agency, GDOT is subject to what the state legislature deems important for it to tackle. Though it does have self-directed policies for alternatives to driving (a successful adoption of complete street design principals, and oversight of the Atlanta Streetcar, as examples), GDOT is still controlled by the state, for state interests, with those interests mainly resulting in roads and automobile-based mobility.

This state control extends to funding for transit and alternatives to driving, where, though GDOT has expressed great interest in implementing state and regional rail, the state itself has prioritized roads. The state has, in the past, showed interest in actively funding transit on the state level, but has had limited success in implementing such policies. The fickle nature of the state's relationship with alternative mobility options means that funding for transit is very much up to the whims of the state legislature for that particular year.

While state funding will be necessary for a state-wide system, dedicated local funding to serve the needs of the locals is a necessity to ensure far more consistent expansions and operations.

Picture Credit: GDOT

Picture Credit: GDOT

State Rail Plan

Despite the fickle state interest, GDOT has assembled a passenger rail plan for the state, combining commuter, intrastate, and interstate rail systems. This plan was, likely, at its most robust in 2006, with the Georgia Rail Passenger Program. GDOT had received funding from the federal government for the first stretch of commuter rail in the Atlanta metro, Atlanta to Lovejoy, and had a schedule set for the remainder of the system. All that was needed, was the state funding to make it all happen.

Unfortunately, the state decided it wanted to shift focus, and so never actually funded the plan. In 2014, the Federal Transit Administration took back the money set aside for the initial route, with only a minimal amount of work having been completed, indapendently, by a few towns along the proposed route. Had the program gone through as planned, we would be nearing the end of the system's construction, with most of the commuter rail lines in operation, and connections to Macon and Albany already established.

Even though GDOT does not, currently, have any funding available for its passenger rail plan, the agency does maintain the plan, updating it with the state's rail plan every few years.


GRTA


The Georgia Regional Transporation Authority is an agency dedicated to providing transit in the greater Atlanta metro. Specifically, GRTA operates express buses in 13-counties, with services primarily focusing on downtown Atlanta. GRTA will, no undoubtedly, remain an important partner for the suburban and exurban metro, but it is illequipped to handle the high-capacity needs of a core, urban county like Gwinnett.


Picture Credit: GRTA

Picture Credit: GRTA

Picture Credit: Wikipedia

Picture Credit: Wikipedia

Regional Reach

GRTA was established in an attempt to tackle worsening air pollution in the Atlanta metro area under Governor Roy Barnes. The agency was given broad control over the 13-county metro area, with the intention that the agency would tackle regional transit and road planning alike. GRTA was to be able to plan, fund, and build many transit lines and roadways as it saw fit, with the ability to influence other agencies and governmental groups operating in the metro area.

Despite this power, the agency has not grown much beyond a relatively small system of express and commuter bus routes, primarily aimed at the core of Atlanta. As a state agency, GRTA, like GDOT, is at the whim of the legislature's priorities, and has not been well funded to perform its intended, wide-reaching role.

 

Current System

Though the original plan was never fully realized, GRTA currently operates 26 commuter bus routes, and partners with both Cobb Linc and Gwinnett County Transit to operate additional routes. There are no current plans for the agency to operate anything other than express routes, though they have been steadily expanding their eXpress bus services.

Should GRTA ever expand into a larger, regional transit agency as initially intended, it will likely follow its current role as a commuter-based system, moving people from park-n-rides to nodes of employment. It will also likely continue to make use of MARTA's infrastructure as it comes in from beyond the core counties. Commuter rail lines, train stations, regional bus stations, and bus lanes all implemented under MARTA's control would only help support further-reaching services, while saving the agency money. As such, expanding MARTA may very well help GRTA grow in the long run, offering more opportunities to reach out into the further-off metro area.


GCT


Gwinnett County Transit is Gwinnett County's resident transit provider. With 12 bus routes, GCT offers limited, but necessary transit services for the county, with its routes primarily concentrated on the I-85, and Buford Highway, corridors. Generally speaking, GCT lacks the experience,and resources to operate high capacity transit efficiently, with little indication that the agency will be scaled up to do so. This leaves Gwinnett underserved for its population and economic position.


Current Reach

GCT has the advantage of already operating in Gwinnett county. No votes nor ballot measures would be needed to allow the agency to increase service, though some form of referendum would likely be needed to approve the large amounts of additional funding needed for any high-capacity transit.

Currently, though, the agency is funded directly from the county's budget, meaning that it is vulnerable to shifting opinions in the county leadership. It also does not receive enough funding to operate or build any high-capacity transit in the county, though doing so has been discussed and is being studied.

 

Future Expansions