Metro Atlanta counties to explore transit issues together

ATLANTA - Government officials from across metro Atlanta will work together over the next two years to devise a regional approach to mass transit.

The region now has six transit systems that work independently of each another, but an 18-member board approved Wednesday by the Atlanta Regional Commission will study how to make their operations seamless.

The transit planning board, which will include Gwinnett Chairman Charles Bannister, will also look for new funding sources for transit in metro Atlanta.

Gwinnett Transportation Director Brian Allen, who attended Wednesday's meeting in downtown Atlanta, said the county supports the regional collaboration.

"It's a good idea," Allen said.

Officials say they must find a way to unify the transit systems and create a true regional network, plus come up with money to operate the trains and buses and provide more transit options.

Spurring the regional efforts are projections that show traffic congestion will worsen as metro Atlanta adds 2.3 million more people by 2030.

Also, the funding outlook for some transit providers in the region is less than rosy because they depend on

federal dollars to pay for their day-to-day operations, and those funds are going to dry up. Gwinnett does not face that dilemma.

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

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

The board will also consider how mass transit should operate several years from now. One scenario that will be reviewed would mesh the various transit systems into one entity.

Bannister said at this time he has no position on the possibility of Gwinnett surrendering control of its transit system and rolling it into a larger, regional one.

"I'm going into this with an open mind," Bannister said of the upcoming planning process.

The transit planning board had already been approved by MARTA and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

It will include county chairs from Gwinnett, Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb and six other counties, as well as Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and representatives from various state and regional agencies.