LOS ANGELES – Some of Fulton County’s top political leaders are in Los Angeles this week to study its public transportation system as they consider their own mass transit future.
The county is developing a mass transit plan that could go to voters next year. Momentum for a transit initiative is growing after Atlanta voters approved a $2.5 billion MARTA expansion last year and with the General Assembly taking steps that could lead to state funding of public transportation.
A Fulton delegation traveled to Dallas earlier this year to see its light rail system. On Wednesday and Thursday a group of mayors and other elected officials – along with board members and employees of agencies like MARTA and the Georgia Regional Transportation System – learned about bus rapid transit in Los Angeles.
Bus rapid transit is like a light rail system on wheels. Passengers board at stations, and the vehicles make fewer stops than regular local buses. They often travel on highway express lanes or in dedicated lanes on local streets. Some are able to pre-empt traffic signals to keep moving.
Los Angeles currently has two bus rapid transit lines stretching a combined 56 miles across the region. It also has about 132 miles of passenger rail. By comparison, MARTA has 48 miles of rail and no bus rapid transit (though the Atlanta region does commuter buses, which can get stuck in traffic with other vehicles).
Los Angeles has some of the most ambitious mass transit expansion plans in the country. Last year voters here approved a $120 billion expansion for rail, bus and other transit options. The measure won a whopping 71 percent approval.
On Tuesday night, some Los Angeles County community leaders briefed the Fulton delegation on what it takes to win that kind of approval in a county of 10 million people and 88 cities. Part of the answer: Traffic has to be so bad that voters are fed up.
“You have to get to the point where the public says, `we don’t have any other choice,’” Gary Toebben, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, told the Fulton group.
A recent study found Los Angeles has the world’s worst traffic. But Atlanta isn’t far behind, coming in at No. 8 in the same study.
Fulton County voters outside Atlanta may get a chance to decide whether they’re fed up enough to approve a mass transit expansion. Kerry Armstrong, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, believes they might be.
“The level of frustration with commute times is rising,” Armstrong said. “What I hear every day is, we’ve got to do something.”
Look for a full report on the Los Angeles trip – and the future of bus rapid transit in Atlanta – next week.