MARTA Responds to Patch Blogger Assertions about TSPLOST and the Transit System
MARTA Spokeswoman Cara Hodgson denies many of Mike Lowry's claims about the system and its expected draw from the TSPLOST
A recent post by Patch blogger Mike Lowry has MARTA responding with its own set of facts and figures.
In his blog "The Transportation Tax and MARTA," Lowry surmises MARTA will get $2.5 billion, of which $1.1 billion goes to current operation and maintenance. Not so, says system spokesperson Cara Hodgson, who contacted Patch by phone and e-mail.
"The Transportation Investment Act does not allow MARTA to receive any operations funding for the existing system which is defined as anything operating before January 2011. The referendum list includes $600 million for MARTA state of good repair capital projects but no funding for operations," she wrote to Patch in an e-mail.
According to Hodgson, the Transportation Investment Act precludes MARTA from receiving any operating dollars for the current system, making it the only transit system in the state that’s precluded from receiving operations funding for its current system as part of the transportation referendum.
Below is a list of the TSPLOST transit projects considered to be MARTA projects:
MARTA State of Good Repair Capital Projects:
- $600 million
Expansion projects in MARTA’s jurisdictions:
- I-20 East $225 million
- Clifton Corridor $700 million
Transit projects sponsored by other jurisdictions
Project Development Funding
- North Line $37 million
- 1-85 NE Line $95 million
- Griffin/Macon Commuter Rail $20 million
- Atlanta Beltline $602 million
- Cobb County NW Corridor $689 million
- Piedmont/Roswell BRT $50 million
Lowry contends that the population in the Atlanta Regional Commission's 10 counties grew 20 percent in 10 years, but MARTA declined overall. Though Hodgson notes MARTA only serves two of the 10 counties: Fulton and DeKalb, which only grew a combined 8.8 percent, according to the 2010 census.
Additionally, she says rail ridership actually grew between 2006 and 2010. However, "since 2010, ridership has declined due to a number of reasons including high unemployment resulting in some customers no longer riding because they are not going to work as well as transit service cuts and fare increases brought about by the significant economic downturn and lack of a sustainable funding mechanism."
Hodgson also points out some changes in the system during 2011, such as a decrease of regular buses from 582 to 531, the cutting out of small buses altogether and the changing of bus routes from 131 to 92.
MARTA has an existing one percent sales tax in place until June 30, 2047 after which it will be reduced to .5 percent, until April 24, 2057, said Hodgson, who also noted the system increased fares in 2012 from $2 to $2.50.
She pointed out the finance information Lowry refers to in the blog are two years old, since it comes from the 2010 budget.
In referance to Lowry's mention of the forecasted total multi-year (2009-2012) $441.5 million fiscal shortfall, Hodgson again cries foul.
"First and foremost, Mr. Lowry is selectively using numbers from an old annual report and not putting the proper context around them. While there was a projected shortfall of $441.5 million during the FY 2010 to 2012 time period, MARTA took a number of steps over this three year period to significantly minimize that shortfall including implementing internal cost containment measures, fare increases and service reductions. In actuality during FY 2010 and FY 2011, MARTA only used $21.8 million and $30.7 million, respectively, from reserves to address the shortfall. In FY 2012, MARTA has budgeted to use $22.7 million from reserves. Mr. Lowry’s analysis conveniently left out the actual budget numbers and numerous prudent steps that MARTA has taken to address the financial shortfall we experienced due to the significant and sustained economic recession. Over the three year period that he references, MARTA’s actual and budgeted use of reserves has totaled $75 million, not $441.5 million. It’s important to note that the economic downturn took a significant hit on MARTA’s sales tax revenues during this time. From FY 2008 to FY 2011, MARTA’s sales tax revenues declined $291 million. Currently, the revised sales tax projections from the Georgia State Economic Forecasting Center show a loss/reduction of more than $130 million from FY 2012 through FY 2016," she said.
Lowry had also written that the losses between 2008 and 2010 were between $500-$510 million each year, to which Hodgson responded:
"Mr. Lowry is referencing accounting statements that include the depreciation of our assets which has nothing to do with the actual cash on hand that MARTA had during that time. The reduction in asset value is an accounting principle that all companies use and is not at all a reflection of an organization’s available cash flow. Once again, Mr. Lowry is selectively presenting numbers without providing context in order to paint an inaccurate picture of MARTA’s financial state."
MARTA's 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report can be found as a PDF attached to this article.