Next Story

Georgia has national parkland — just not national parks

State threatens to close Atlanta streetcar


State regulators have threatened to shut down Atlanta’s troubled streetcar unless the city resolves a slew of problems outlined in recent audits.

In a letter to Mayor Kasim Reed and MARTA CEO Keith Parker on Monday, the Georgia Department of Transportation gave the city until June 14 to submit plans to address 60 outstanding problems outlined in the reports. If those plans are not sufficient, GDOT said, it will order the streetcar to shut down immediately.

The city and MARTA share responsibility for the $98 million system that runs in downtown Atlanta. State and federal law requires GDOT to oversee the safety and security of rail operations like the streetcar, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said.

The problems with the streetcar include poor maintenance procedures, inadequate staffing and a failure to properly investigate accidents.

McMurry said in the letter that, since the service started in December 2014, streetcar officials have failed to “provide timely, substantive and compliant responses to deficiencies identified by the department and (Federal Transportation Authority).”

In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday, McMurry said the department expects the problems will be resolved and said GDOT “will continue to work with the city and MARTA to ensure this projects meets federal requirements.”

A MARTA spokesman referred comment to the mayor’s office. Reed spokeswoman Jenna Garland released a statement that said Atlanta has “worked diligently and cooperatively with state and federal regulators to provide the best possible service and experience for Atlanta Streetcar riders.”

“The city is committed to operating the Atlanta Streetcar safely and effectively,” Garland said. “We take GDOT’s feedback seriously and will continue to make every effort to work with the agency to address all action items by the date requested.”

Monday’s letter is the latest indication the Atlanta Streetcar has fallen short of the pretty picture its supporters painted when it opened 17 months ago. At its inaugural run, Reed called it a model for the rest of the country, an economic catalyst that would one day tie into the city’s 22-mile Beltline.

Problems surfaced even before it opened, with the price tag for completing the 2.7-mile downtown route ballooning from about $70 million to nearly $100 million.

After offering free fares for a year, the streetcar started charging $1 in January. Ridership plummeted. About 91,000 people rode the street in the first three months of this year – 48 percent less than the same period in 2015.

Last year, the Federal Transit Administration expressed concerns about the safety and operation of the streetcar. Among other things, it found defects in the streetcar’s overhead electrical system, poor operating procedures, significant management and staff vacancies and failure to comply with state accident reporting requirements.

GDOT followed with its own report, which found confusion over the roles of Atlanta and MARTA in operating the system. It also found deficient maintenance, inadequate staff training and other problems.

In January, Atlanta and MARTA told GDOT they were making significant progress in fixing the problems. But Monday’s letter shows GDOT officials do not share that assessment.

“The joint letter to the City of Atlanta and MARTA outlines the program requirements that have not been satisfactorily resolved for compliance,” McMurry said.

City Councilwoman Mary Norwood said she was not aware of the GDOT letter but hopes “the mayor and MARTA can get this fixed, because we have a tremendous investment going forward in this mode of transportation.”

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, traced the problems to the city’s involvement in running the streetcar. He wants MARTA to operate the system and earlier this year introduced an unsuccessful bill that would have put the system under its control.

“The streetcar ought to be operated by professionals,” Fort said. “It’s embarrassing for the City of Atlanta to be in this position. It’s especially troubling when it comes down to safety issues.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Georgia Politics

Georgia resets rules on voter challenges after a town got it wrong
Georgia resets rules on voter challenges after a town got it wrong

A recent string of problems over how local officials challenged the registration of Georgia voters can be summed up in the curt, one-page letter that arrived mid-July at Jennifer Hill’s home near Savannah. Even though she had lived there for three years, the tiny town of Thunderbolt wanted Hill to prove her residency because her name did...
Lawmakers begin talks about how to replace Georgia’s aging vote system
Lawmakers begin talks about how to replace Georgia’s aging vote system

A handful of lawmakers began the discussion Friday about what it might take to move Georgia to a new election system, an important but incremental step toward replacing the state’s aging voting machines. The meeting of the state House Science and Technology Committee represents a start. Any decision will likely take a few years and, depending...
Graham-Cassidy obscures deadlines for other key actions on health care
Graham-Cassidy obscures deadlines for other key actions on health care

Nearly one hundred and fifty million dollars to keep Georgia hospitals’ indigent care afloat. Funding for the PeachCare program that along with Medicaid covers about half of Georgia’s kids. Clear answers on Obamacare subsidies that Blue Cross said it needed to keep selling individual plans in metro Atlanta. Those are some things that Congress...
Georgia ethics panel to begin auditing candidates in governor’s race
Georgia ethics panel to begin auditing candidates in governor’s race

After years of mainly investigating issues raised by Georgians, the state’s ethics watchdog agency plans to aggressively audit campaign filings from all the major statewide races coming up. Stefan Ritter, the executive secretary of the ethics commission, said that while some details still have to be worked out, the agency will be auditing the...
From the Right, the advice for Trump is to try diplomacy
From the Right, the advice for Trump is to try diplomacy

A roundup of editorials Friday looks at the idea that kicking North Korea out of the UN would go a long way toward helping the current situation, and that having President Donald Trump negotiate instead of threaten would be the best move to make.  Here are some opinions from the Right. From The Wall Street Journal: If the world community is serious...
More Stories