Mar 22, 2023 - News

MARTA, City Hall at odds over bus and rail expansion spending

Illustration of a Metro train with a front window shaped like a danger sign.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The once-strong relationship between City Hall and MARTA has strained as the two sides quarrel over the slow roll-out of a roughly $2.7 billion, 40-year bus-and-rail expansion program.

What's happening: On Monday, the Atlanta City Council unanimously called for the city finance department to audit how the transit agency has managed funding received through the More MARTA tax.

  • "Confidence in public institutions is paramount," Atlanta City Council member Amir Farokhi said at a Tuesday press conference. "Without trust, we can't build the city and state we want to live in."

Why it matters: Atlanta is the core of MARTA's service area, a substantial source of its revenue and a key political ally in a state that too often keeps transit on the sidelines.

  • The agency's bus and rail network keeps an estimated 185,000 cars off the road every day. It is a lifeline for Atlantans to access jobs, health care, school and more.

Catch up quick: Over the past two years, council members and MARTA have tussled over bus rapid transit on Campbellton Road and the agency's design for its Five Points makeover.

  • MARTA's spending on bus operations and the recent decision to revise the list of projects funded by the tax — an additional half-penny sales tax levied inside the city limits — have amped up calls for more transparency and accountability.

The other side: In a lengthy and fiery statement, MARTA called the council members' arguments "disappointing and disingenuous" and accused them of stalling the process.

  • "The best thing the politicians on council can do for their constituents in the City of Atlanta is to get out of the way and let MARTA deliver the projects," the agency said.

What's next: MARTA has until March 29 to respond to the city. Conducting an audit means pressing pause on all More MARTA projects except for the Five Points overhaul and Summerhill bus rapid transit, the agency said.

  • Mayor Andre Dickens would also need to direct the city finance department to conduct the audit.

Thomas' thought bubble: MARTA and the city could benefit from couples therapy. Or an escape room. Maybe arm wrestling?


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