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MARTA Responds to Patch Blogger Assertions about TSPLOST and the Transit System

MARTA Spokeswoman Cara Hodgson denies many of Mike Lowry's claims about the system and its expected draw from the TSPLOST

A recent has MARTA responding with its own set of facts and figures.

In his blog . Not so, says system spokesperson Cara Hodgson, who contacted Patch by phone and e-mail.

"The Transportation Investment Act does not allow MARTA to receive any operations funding for the existing system which is defined as anything operating before January 2011. The referendum list includes $600 million for MARTA state of good repair capital projects but no funding for operations," she wrote to Patch in an e-mail.

According to Hodgson, the Transportation Investment Act precludes MARTA from receiving any operating dollars for the current system, making it the only transit system in the state that’s precluded from receiving operations funding for its current system as part of the transportation referendum.

Below is a list of the TSPLOST transit projects considered to be MARTA projects:

MARTA State of Good Repair Capital Projects: 

  • $600 million

Expansion projects in MARTA’s jurisdictions:

  • I-20 East $225 million
  • Clifton Corridor $700 million

Transit projects sponsored by other jurisdictions

Project Development Funding

  • North Line $37 million
  • 1-85 NE Line $95 million
  • Griffin/Macon Commuter Rail $20 million

System Expansions

  • Atlanta Beltline $602 million
  • Cobb County NW Corridor $689 million
  • Piedmont/Roswell BRT $50 million

Lowry contends that the population in the Atlanta Regional Commission's 10 counties grew 20 percent in 10 years, but MARTA declined overall. Though Hodgson notes MARTA only serves two of the 10 counties: Fulton and DeKalb, which only grew a combined 8.8 percent, according to the 2010 census.

Additionally, she says rail ridership actually grew between 2006 and 2010. However, "since 2010, ridership has declined due to a number of reasons including high unemployment resulting in some customers no longer riding because they are not going to work as well as transit service cuts and fare increases brought about by the significant economic downturn and lack of a sustainable funding mechanism."

Hodgson also points out some changes in the system during 2011, such as a decrease of regular buses from 582 to 531, the cutting out of small buses altogether and the changing of bus routes from 131 to 92.

MARTA has an existing one percent sales tax in place until June 30, 2047 after which it will be reduced to .5 percent, until April 24, 2057, said Hodgson, who also noted the system increased fares in 2012 from $2 to $2.50.

She pointed out the finance information Lowry refers to in the blog are two years old, since it comes from the 2010 budget.

In referance to Lowry's mention of the forecasted total multi-year (2009-2012) $441.5 million fiscal shortfall, Hodgson again cries foul.

"First and foremost, Mr. Lowry is selectively using numbers from an old annual report and not putting the proper context around them. While there was a projected shortfall of $441.5 million during the FY 2010 to 2012 time period, MARTA took a number of steps over this three year period to significantly minimize that shortfall including implementing internal cost containment measures, fare increases and service reductions. In actuality during FY 2010 and FY 2011, MARTA only used $21.8 million and $30.7 million, respectively, from reserves to address the shortfall. In FY 2012, MARTA has budgeted to use $22.7 million from reserves. Mr. Lowry’s analysis conveniently left out the actual budget numbers and numerous prudent steps that MARTA has taken to address the financial shortfall we experienced due to the significant and sustained economic recession. Over the three year period that he references, MARTA’s actual and budgeted use of reserves has totaled $75 million, not $441.5 million. It’s important to note that the economic downturn took a significant hit on MARTA’s sales tax revenues during this time. From FY 2008 to FY 2011, MARTA’s sales tax revenues declined $291 million. Currently, the revised sales tax projections from the Georgia State Economic Forecasting Center show a loss/reduction of more than $130 million from FY 2012 through FY 2016," she said.

Lowry had also written that the losses between 2008 and 2010 were between $500-$510 million each year, to which Hodgson responded:

"Mr. Lowry is referencing accounting statements that include the depreciation of our assets which has nothing to do with the actual cash on hand that MARTA had during that time. The reduction in asset value is an accounting principle that all companies use and is not at all a reflection of an organization’s available cash flow. Once again, Mr. Lowry is selectively presenting numbers without providing context in order to paint an inaccurate picture of MARTA’s financial state."

MARTA's 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report can be found as a PDF attached to this article.

To

Mike Lowry May 29, 2012 at 07:34 PM
I think if anyone looks at the project list, the following projects all would appear to be operational maintenance: TIA‐M‐001 MARTA Train Control Systems Upgrade TIA‐M‐002 MARTA Elevator and Escalator Rehabilitation Program TIA‐M‐005 MARTA Tunnel and Platform Lighting Upgrade TIA‐M‐006 MARTA Tunnel Ventilation Rehabilitation TIA‐M‐007 MARTA Electrical Power Rehabilitation TIA‐M‐008 MARTA Track Rehabilitation The creation of terminology such as "state of good repair capital projects" is simply a way to get around the restrictions put into HB277 by the legislature. This is already the subject of a request for an injunction by one of the legislators. This is similar to ARC redefining "congestion relief" to something that has nothing to do with shorter commute times. It's a semantic game to get you to vote for the tax.
George Wentworth May 30, 2012 at 12:46 AM
^None of those projects look like operations to me. Operations would include things like driver's salaries and electricity bills. Replacing track or escalators is not operations, it is infrastructure.
Mike Lowry May 30, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Most people would call them "maintenance".
Kevin Erwin May 30, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Mike: how do you respond to Ms. hodgson's claim that you cherry picked line items from old financials? Does seem really disingenuous to cite a figure which includes depreciation as a cash expense.
Mike Lowry May 30, 2012 at 02:03 PM
The basic point is that MARTA is using "redefinition" to avoid the restrictions of HB277, and that it requires massive taxpayer subsidy, even after 30 years of operation. Any "cherry picking" I might have done doesn't change the nature of the cherry grove.
janet h russell May 31, 2012 at 02:45 AM
Marta is the only mass transit system of a major metropolitan area in the US which receives NO, I repeat NO (nothing to cherry pick there), funding from the state in which it operates. Every time you buy an ear of corn, Mr. Lowry , you are eating subsidized food. Do you object to that and not eat since most crops in the US which are not organic receive huge taxpayer subsidies which is interesting to me. Since crops are the highest they have been as commodities in decades.
Shaun May 31, 2012 at 03:14 PM
I wouldn't say you cherry picked. You chopped down the cherry tree. Don't let your biases get in the way of facts. You should also own up to the fact that you did make incorrect statements regarding MARTA's financial situation. Part of being human is admitting to your mistakes, and it will earn you much more respect in the long run. You should also learn the difference between maintenance and operations. We wouldn't even be having this problem (TSPOLST) if Georgia's government would fund public transportation. As Janet pointed out, MARTA is the only mass transit system in the nation that doesn't receive funding from its state government. MARTA keeps Atlanta moving whether you want to believe it or not. Thousands upon thousands of people rely on the transit agency to commute to their destinations.
arctk2011tj May 31, 2012 at 04:52 PM
My question(s) for Mike Lowry are: -"Do you ride MARTA?" -"And if so, what line(s) do you utilize and how often?"
Eric Robert May 31, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Mike I commend you for responding and basically acknowledging that your numbers were wrong (actually so wrong they were in another universe). I also agree that the 600 milion in the TSPLOST for MARTA could be interpreted as trying to sidestep ill advised prohibition in the TIA/TSPLOST by the state legialators. The legislature also failed by not removing the antiquated 50/50 capital/operations sales tax split provision. All the more questionable because the state doesn't provide funding to MARTA. I also think the TSPLOST should be voted down. But the "Cherry Forest" in your article was far more than the issue of is it operations or capital. It questioned the value of MARTA based on grossly inaccurate numbers. That led to your conclusion "Do we really want more of this? Georgia, we can do better than this." In the corridors where MARTA runs it gets a significant portion of the rush hour commuters. Imagine the Downtown Connector if MARTA's 400,000 to 500,000 daily boardings were driving instead? A lane on a highway moves 1,800 cars an hour. MARTA's economic value is also evidenced by Cumberland's desperate attempt to get light rail from Arts Center so it can compete with the Perimeter Center. But yes I do not like TSPLOST because it actually will does more road building than transit 16 miles of roads to 1 mile of rail. And we can't pave our way out of congestion because of induced demand.
Eric Robert May 31, 2012 at 06:40 PM
The ARC is forecasting 3 million people moving into the 20 County Metro Atlanta Region by 2040 (though the TSPLOST and its projects are in only 10 of the counties). The problem is to many of those 3 million people are forecasted to move further out and thus the TSPLOSTS projects are designed to make their drives easier. A more efficient way to grow is to instead of building new infrastructure have the future growth go to where their is adequate infrastructure. Why sporadically place high density development throughout the region. Why not focus its placement near existing rail stations. Instead of trying to get rail to go everywhere lets get more jobs and people to go near the extensive MARTA rail system. This would have the added benefit of increasing ridership and thus farebox revenues at a relatively cheap cost since its easy to add capacity to the train by adding train cars or increasing the frequency of the trains. Bottom line a sales tax is a horrible way to build roads, it hides the massive subsidies we already provide to driving via our property taxes and county spending, as well as zoning codes that end up giving free parking because of minimum parking requirements. . And what about people who don't own a car? it is funny or sad that TSPLOST may pass because of Fulton and DeKalb since we need it the least. We have MARTA we have ways around congestion. We have underutilized land near rail stations that should be used instead of spreading out more.
Eric Robert May 31, 2012 at 06:43 PM
"MARTA is using "redefinition" to avoid the restrictions of HB277" By the way MARTA didn't make the list or approve the list. The list has a lot of vaugeness. Like the 600 - 700 million for Cobb Transit that seems likely to go to express buses running up the HOT lanes on I75 its hard to imagine how that could cost anywhere near that amount.
William May 31, 2012 at 07:45 PM
"[MARTA] requires massive taxpayer subsidy, even after 30 years of operation." If only it could be as self sufficient as roads. Unless--wait--is it possible that we heavily subsidize those too?!
Ben W. June 01, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Do you even trust GDOT? Why do you think the vote is on July 31st? Listen to Erick Erickson: "I believe the Georgia Department of Transportation is an unrepentant cesspool of greed and corruption used by lawmakers and other politicians to buy friends and win influence. Every few years, a new report comes out that GDOT has underfunded projects, unaccounted for demands for money, and is otherwise in disarray. The few times our politicians have sought to clean up the cesspool they have sent in reformers who have been defeated, smeared and tossed out with their reputation in tatters only to be replaced by good old boys who have perpetuated the system." Do you trust them? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfiuVHxJJhY

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