By Rep. Mike Jacobs

Mike Jacobs, State Representative
Rep. Mike Jacobs

The perception of MARTA in metro Atlanta is that it is a service for those who travel inside I-285. When commuters pierce the Perimeter to the suburbs, MARTA is seen as a service not designed to meet their needs.

Having opened its first rail line more than three decades ago, MARTA today only has four stops outside of I-285, one of which is in Dunwoody in DeKalb County and two of which are in Sandy Springs in north Fulton County.

Metro Atlanta’s suburbs are slowly but surely becoming more receptive to mass transit. To build suburban support, however, MARTA needs buy-in from local residents and officials in suburban areas of counties that have been paying for MARTA since its inception. In Fulton County, that means garnering support from the cities of north Fulton.

That is why my legislation that nearly passed in this year’s General Assembly, House Bill 1052, would have reshaped the MARTA board of directors by reducing appointments from the Fulton County Commission and replacing them with two members appointed by a consensus of the north Fulton mayors. This is a path to more sound representation that, in turn, could clear a path for future MARTA expansion.

Right now, the Fulton County Commission has three appointments to the MARTA board: two from north of the city of Atlanta and one from south of the city. But North Fulton residents live in cities. No unincorporated areas remain in north Fulton.

The city of Atlanta has three appointees to the MARTA board. According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, the city of Atlanta had 391,711 residents in 2011. Meanwhile, the populations of the north Fulton cities combined were almost as much as the city of Atlanta last year: Alpharetta, 57,551; Johns Creek, 76,728; Milton, 32,661; Mountain Park, 526; Roswell, 88,346; and Sandy Springs, 93,853. That’s 349,665 residents in the north Fulton cities.

My proposal to reshape the MARTA board also applies to DeKalb County as the DeKalb County Commission would reduce its appointments from four to three, with a fourth DeKalb appointee being chosen by a consensus of the mayors of DeKalb cities, including the cities of Chamblee, Dunwoody, and perhaps a future Brookhaven.

The residents of these cities – who pay the 1 percent sales tax on every purchase to fund MARTA bus and rail – deserve a voice in MARTA’s future that reflects how they have chosen to be governed at the local level, by their local cities rather than a county government.

While this legislation suffered an eleventh-hour defeat in the House of Representatives, falling just four votes shy of the 91 votes needed for passage, it will return in 2013. It is important for the long-term improvement of MARTA.

Giving representation on the MARTA board to those communities who help fund a significant portion of MARTA’s sales tax revenue is another step in bringing government closer to the people. Moreover, it will give them a vested interest in the future of mass transit.

This is necessary if we ever wish to a build a truly regional mass transit system, one that extends into north Fulton and other areas OTP. If we want MARTA to extend beyond its three rail stations in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody, citizens in communities beyond those three stops will need a seat at the table and a real voice in making transit decisions.

State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-DeKalb County) is chairman of the MARTA Oversight Committee, a joint committee of the Georgia House of Representatives and Georgia Senate charged with reviewing MARTA’s governance, budget and fiscal affairs.