Regional transit explored

LAWRENCEVILLE - County leaders from across metro Atlanta will decide today if they want to create a board that would help organize the region's various transit systems.

Besides trying to make it easier for riders to jump from one system to another, the board composed largely of county chairmen will also study how mass transit should operate several years from now and how it should be funded.

Today's decision on creating a "transit planning board" comes more than one year after the group of local officials began meeting to discuss the future of transit in metro Atlanta, which has six separate transit providers.

"The analysis was undertaken to encourage the numerous transit providers in the region to work better with each other and create a network that is more seamless for transit passengers," Cobb County Chairman Sam Olens said.

"It was also undertaken to encourage the planning that is really necessary for our region as we try to determine where transit will be 20 years from now."

Officials say transit is expected to play an important role in metro Atlanta as the region adds 2.3 million more people through 2030 and traffic congestion increases. At the same time, funding for transit is scarce, they say.

The planning board would include county chairs from Gwinnett, Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb and six other counties, as well as the mayor of Atlanta and representatives from various state and regional agencies.

The board would lobby the federal and state government for more transit funding, and it would also consider a regional funding source, which could take the form of a regional sales tax or some other alternative.

The board would also work to integrate fares, marketing and customer information across the region, with a regional fare system being one of the results.

In the long run, the planning board could morph into a "transit services board" that would oversee a regional network of buses and trains.

Gwinnett Chairman Charles Bannister said he anticipates Gwinnett, which has a bus system, will join the planning board.

"I think (mass transit) is very important," Bannister said. "The cost of building roads and other transportation alternatives has become so great that we are probably going to have to look at grouping ourselves in a way to reduce overall costs."