While Emory students and employees must travel and commute in a city whose traffic ranks among the most congested in the world, some relief may be on the way. Two proposals working their way through Georgia’s General Assembly could lead to the largest changes in Atlanta’s Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) since its creation in 1971, including increased funding and expanded light rail service. While still in early stages, H.B. 930, proposed by State Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) and S.B. 386 proposed by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) constitute an important step in creating a strong public transportation system with benefits both to Emory and the greater Atlanta area.
Central to each bill is a proposed process to expand MARTA beyond its current three-county area. Today, 13 different transit operators serve 11 different metro Atlanta counties. Both bills would consolidate those transit agencies into a single agency and allow voters in areas seeking public transit to vote to raise taxes to fund those projects. Expansion of transit lines is a crucial step in attracting companies such as Amazon.com, Inc., to Atlanta. Amazon lists rail access as a requirement for its new headquarters — for which Atlanta is being considered as a potential location. If Atlanta were chosen, then the resulting new jobs would benefit Emory students and graduates seeking nearby employment and internships as well as contribute to the overall health of the city.
Emory is working to secure a light rail connection to MARTA through the Clifton Corridor Project. While that initiative is already primarily funded through a city of Atlanta sales tax, these bills would ensure that anyone traveling on a future MARTA light rail line through the Clifton Corridor has greater access to more Atlanta neighborhoods and surrounding areas. Students could more easily explore wider portions of the metro area, while employees living in Atlanta’s fast-growing northern suburbs could bypass heavily congested highways on their commute and fewer cars on Emory’s campus would simultaneously decrease pollution and increase pedestrian safety.
Tanner’s bill contains additional state funding for MARTA through a 50-cent flat tax on ride-sharing services and a tax on consumer goods at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport Airport. Revenue from those fees would help alleviate the funding problems currently faced by MARTA, which receives only 9 cents per ride from the state government compared to a national average of $1.32 per ride. MARTA could use that money to lower its fares, which currently are among the highest in the country, at $2.50 for a one way trip. More affordable public transportation is critical to increasing its appeal to Emory community members and Atlanta residents, and the taxes would be a small price to pay for the resulting benefits.
If the bills gain sufficient support, then they will likely be combined into a final package that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has indicated a willingness to sign. Both Emory administration and community members should work to support their passage, which would further the vision of a University more closely integrated into our surrounding community.
The above Editorial represents the consensus opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.
The editorial board is composed of Nora Elmubarak, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Isabeth Mendoza, Boris Niyonzima, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois and Mathew Sperling.