MARTA PUSHING FARES TO BECOME MOST EXPENSIVE IN THE NATION
ATLANTA, GA, May 2, 2000-The Environmental Justice Resource Center (EJRC) at Clark Atlanta University issued a preliminary report of MARTA's proposed fare increase. A public hearing is scheduled May 3, 2000 to discuss MARTA's proposal to raise one-way cash fares from $1.50 to $1.75, a 16.7 percent increase. The proposal also calls for increasing the weekly transit pass from $12 to $13 (a 8.3 percent increase). Monthly passes would jump from $45 to $52.50 (a 16.7 percent increase) and half-price senior citizens cash fare would increase from 75 cents to 85 cents (an 13.3 percent increase).
The EJRC report concluded that MARTA's proposed $1.75 one-way fare would make it the most expensive public transit ride in the country. More important, the proposed fare increase would adversely and disproportionately impact MARTA's low-income and transit-dependent customers, who are disproportionately African American. MARTA's transit-dependent customers will be especially sensitive to the proposed fare increase. "There are clear equity impacts related to the proposed MARTA fare hike. Without a doubt, poor people and black people will be hit the hardest," states professor Robert D. Bullard, principal author of the report and author of the 1997 book, Just Transportation: Dismantling Race and Class Barriers to Mobility. "By insisting on this fare increase, MARTA has violated the trust placed in it by the citizens of Fulton and DeKalb counties to have an affordable and safe transit system," says Flora M. Tommie, a MARTA rider since 1983 and an active member of Atlanta's Neighborhood Planning Unit X. Allen, Chairman of the Metropolitan Atlanta Transportation Equity coalition (MATEC) says, "MARTA should not be allowed to raise its fares at this time. They should reduce fares."
The EJRC has retained the services of Thomas A. Rubin, an Oakland, California-based transportation consultant. Rubin's preliminary analysis and findings on MARTA's fare structure are consistent with those presented in the EJRC report. "Atlantans already pay a high one-way cash fare. Going to a $1.75 fare would definitely set MARTA apart from the pack," says Rubin who has served as consultant on a number of transit fare disputes, including the Los Angeles MTA Title VI fare dispute. The major findings of Rubin can be summarized as follows:
- The fares of 26 of the 30 largest transit agencies in the U.S., as identified by the U.S. Federal Transit Administration, were compared (four were excluded because they principally operate commuter rail or ferryboat services that are not comparable to MARTA's transit services). MARTA's existing $1.50 fare ties for the second highest of any comparable U.S. transit operator, behind only the $1.60 fare of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia. If the increase to $1.75 is implemented, MARTA will have the highest fare. MARTA's current fare level is currently 27% higher than the $1.18 average of the 25 other transit agencies and the proposed $1.75 fare level would be 48% higher than the group average.
- Usable cost-of-living-index (COLI) data is only available for the areas where 16 of the transit agencies operate. MARTA's current adjusted fare level of $1.45 is the highest in the nation, 6% higher than second-highest SEPTA and 38% higher than the $1.05 average of the other 15. The procedure utilized to produce cost-of-living indexed (COLI) cash fares was to divide the nominal cash fare by the ACCRA COLI values for the third and fourth quarters of calendar year 1999. For example, for MARTA, the adult cash fare of $1.50 was divided by the COLI index of 1.038 to produce $1.45.
- If the fare increase is implemented, MARTA's $1.69 adjusted fare will be 23% higher than number two SEPTA and 61% higher than the group average.
- In addition, the fare increase will result in lower use of transit. MARTA forecasts a 5% loss of ridership, which may be somewhat understated. It is important to recognize that the reduced use of transit is likely to be largely concentrated in the poorest members of the Greater Atlanta community, those that have few or no other transportation options. MARTA appears to be using an elasticity of -.30 which is lower than the national experience as reported by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). If elasticity is actually -.40 then ridership loss would be approximately 6.7%; if -.36, the ridership loss would be approximately 6.0%.
- In lieu of fare hikes, the MARTA should initiate an aggressive plan to expand ridership (especially in areas where transit is needed the most), capture all of its fare box revenue (a significant portion is lost because transfers are not stamped and time limits rigorously enforced), streamline its administrative staff, acquire more state, regional, and federal funding for public transit, and explore the feasibility of a fare reduction.
MARTA should encourage affluent white suburbanites to get out of their cars and use its system. At the same time, MARTA should not balance an appeal for new suburban riders on the backs of those customers who can least afford to pay. There appears to be some agreement with this position among some of Atlanta's elected officials. On Monday May 1, 2000, the Fulton County Commissioners and the Atlanta City Council approved resolutions opposing the MARTA fare hike.
Similarly, MARTA has a major role in combating smog. Cars are major contributors to Atlanta's non attainment status. A sizable share of low-income households who would be priced out of transit (with the fare increase) may be forced into older, pollution-generating cars-adding to an already bad situation. More than 2.8 million cars keep the region's air polluted and freeways gridlocked.
MARTA should commission a fare policy study by an outside consultant to determine the equity implications of its current $1.50 one-way fare and the proposed $1.75 fare increase and to assist the agency in coming up with alternative revenue enhancement strategies. Terry Allen and other MATEC leaders will be asking the MARTA Board for this independent fare analysis. They would like to see MARTA take no actions on a fare increase at least until the study has been completed, and stakeholders and the public have all had a full and fair opportunity to be heard on the merits.
For more information please contact:
Robert D. Bullard, Ph.D.
Environmental Justice Resource Center
Thomas A. Rubin, CPA
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