Monday, March 9, 2009

MARTA Ridership Gains Gone With the Wind

MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta public transit agency, reported an 8.6 gain in ridership on its subway system for 2008, the third highest among the nation's subway operators, according to American Public Transportation Association figures. But the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports a reversal of fortune for the agency this year, with ridership off four percent, year over year, in January. That's the start of MARTA's troubles:

"Despite getting about $65 million from the federal economic stimulus package for repairs, renovations and equipment replacements, MARTA is projected to have a $65 million to $67 million operating budget shortfall this year because its share of public sales tax revenues has declined dramatically along with the economy.

"And with lower gasoline prices and fewer people now commuting to work because they no longer have jobs, ridership is falling once again, too."

MARTA CEO Beverly Scott says the drop in sales tax revenue could mean service reductions of 10 to 30 percent, depending on what the Georgia legislature does to come to the agency's aid. Also a 25-cent fare hike to $2 for a single ride is in store for riders.


  1. It would appear that two factors are now affecting mass transit ridership and I would hope that those formulating mass transit policy will clearly distinguish such.

    First, to what extent has mass transit ridership, MARTA and elsewhere, declined simply because there are more people out of work and hence no need to use mass transit for a commute AND to what extent ridership has been affected because "gas is down so we don't need mass transit anymore".

    Finally, we should note that a whole new parameter has come into play for any mass transit agency that is funded by a permanent excise tax base, as distinct from the model of Amtrak, that must go on the annual "begathon' to Congress for an appropriation. Many an agency funded by a dedicated excise tax (in most cases a component of a prevailing Local "Sales Tax"), are now finding the stark reality that these revenue sources can decline. People are buying less junk, and so goes 'Sales Tax' revenues - the wrong way.

    Here in my home state of Illinois, there is recognition of this little "factoid of life'. Consumption is down either because of unemployment or that 'conspicuous consumption" is "oh so out', so the Governor has proposed legislation to raise the flat Income Tax rate from the existing 3% to 4.5%. While so long as high unemployment persists, there will still be a revenue shortfall, but when the economy recovers, this little "wake up call' of our current "Great Recession" may put a damper on the consumption binge that has prevailed for all too long. "Sales Tax" revenues may not recover all that readily.

    O tempora, O mores

  2. Another factor affecting the transit vs. highway decision would be congestion. If fewer people are working, one would assume there will be fewer cars on the road during rush hour, so some commuters could opt to got back to the highway.

    Perhaps I should inquire with our transportation gurus whether anyone is working on predictive models.

  3. Gilbert, your assumptions were also mentioned in the article, so I'm not understanding your need to reiterate.

    The fact of the matter is that we have become way too dependent on our cars, and we have, over the decades, convinced ourselves that car ownership is a right and not a privilege. One of the key reasons mass transit is underfunded in the U.S. has more to do with psychology than it does economics. Americans continue to believe that public transportation is beneath them and they shroud that sensibility with excuses such as, "transit doesn't go where I go," or "It takes too long" or "It's just too inconvenient." What one will find is that most who bring up those excuses relating to mass transit have either never used it or haven't done so in a very long time. We've got to address the psychology as well as the infrastructure.

  4. I feel very proud about Marta she is one of my favorite institutions of our country because it alway do the right moves for our sake.