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a state takeover of MARTA buses?

In press conferences and at committee hearings over the past year, Gov. Sonny Perdue and members of his staff have repeatedly said the state won't give MARTA operational funds until the state gets more control over how the troubled transit agency spends its money.

Now, transportation experts and Republican lawmakers are discussing a way to do just that.

State lawmakers are considering transferring control of MARTA's bus system from MARTA's CEO and board to the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. MARTA would still operate its trains.

A state takeover of the buses is one of three options being studied by an Atlanta Regional Commission task force, which will release its final recommendations for the regional mass transit system in 12 to 18 months.

Rep. Jill Chambers, R-Atlanta, chairwoman of the state committee that supervises (but doesn't control) MARTA's operations, says giving the state agency GRTA control of MARTA's buses would please some rural lawmakers who traditionally have blocked efforts to fund MARTA. "I think it's the best way for us to look at new options for funding mass transit in Atlanta," Chambers says.

Notably, MARTA is the only major public transit system in the country that receives no operational funds from the state.

"If you're a representative or senator from South Georgia, you get re-elected by going back home and saying, 'Hey, I kicked Atlanta's butt while I was in the Legislature,'" Chambers adds. "So we have to find some way to ... bring in the support of people from outside of metro Atlanta."

But not everybody thinks the state should be running MARTA buses, which serve 212,000 riders daily.

"A state agency like GRTA, which is appointed by the governor, is as far away as you can get from the people who're actually using the bus service," says MARTA board Chairman Michael Walls. "I would never feel comfortable having local transportation controlled at the state level."

The GRTA board and Republican-controlled General Assembly would have to approve transferring MARTA's bus service to GRTA.

Interested in joining the fight for better mass transit in metro Atlanta? Check out the nonprofit group Citizens For Progressive Transit at www.cfpt.org.??



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