New York City’s subway system opened in 1904 and underwent a major expansion in 1908. At the time, heavy rail was the only affordable form of transportation, other than walking.
Also at that time, the city’s population and economic activity was heavily concentrated in lower Manhattan. The subway system brought revolutionary change to the city because it made travel from upper Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx quick, easy and, with a fare of 5 cents, affordable.
Although fares have increased dramatically over the years, the subway system still provides quick and easy transportation, providing over 8 million rides per day. That’s largely because population and business centers were built within easy walking distance of the system’s 472 stations.
Atlanta’s MARTA system pales by comparison, both in the number of stations, (38) and ridership. That, in combination with the extreme cost of building heavy rail (approximately $250 million per mile) are significant reasons that the recent referendum failed. A survey of comments on social media demonstrates that the resistance at the voting booth wasn’t to transit, but to MARTA.
Even though the county’s transit plan included a host of bus routes, (including BRT, express bus and micro transit) many of which would be implemented within a year, they were overshadowed by the $1 billion+ cost and 20-year time frame of a four-mile extension of MARTA heavy rail. Heavy rail is widely viewed as a relic of the past, and the referendum was widely perceived as a MARTA money grab to be used to finance obsolete technology.
The money grab perception was fueled by a one percent sales tax that would serve as the expansion plan’s financial vehicle. That tax was to apply to sales of ALL purchases including those for food and prescription drugs. In so doing, the tax would have hit lower-income families- ironically, those most in need of public transit options- the hardest.
Another objection to MARTA is that with a mere 38 stations, other modes of transportation are frequently required at one, or both ends of a trip. That adds both time and expense, making other forms of transportation more appealing.
There’s no doubt that some form of public transit is coming to Gwinnett County. Hopefully, the next proposal will deliver more and cost less.