The public transportation money pit in perspective

*Editors note:Please read the update posted below the original article*

The AJC has started a series of articles designed to give a comprehensive assessment of Georgia’s transportation situation as the state decides whether to raise taxes in the hope of solving the state’s transportation problems. The first article in the series is titled Atlanta at heart of area’s transit issues and you can read the whole thing here.

As the AJC continues their series I will examine their coverage from my own perspective and today I want to focus on the paragraph below because it illustrates beautifully how the absurd inefficiency of public transportation and the resulting cost to taxpayers is overlooked by proponents as well as those responsible for covering transportation issues.

One thing Atlanta wants to do, if the project makes the final list, is pump $861 million into 
MARTA to bring the “system into a state of good repair.” Tom Weyandt, Atlanta’s senior policy adviser for transportation, said MARTA currently has a $1.6 billion backlog on repair projects.

The current MARTA sales tax costs Dekalb and Fulton County taxpayers more than 300 Million Dollars a year but the system still has 1.6 Billion Dollars  worth of maintenance projects that they can’t afford to pay for? In these days of trillion dollar federal deficits people have become completely desensitized to astronomical numbers but let us take a moment to put 1.6 Billion Dollars in perspective. This is what 1.6 Billion Dollars looks like: $1,600,000,000.00.

According to the 2010 census there are now 420,000 people living in the city of Atlanta so that 1.6 Billion Dollars would be $3,809,524 for every person that lives in Atlanta. So after decades of collecting tens of billions of dollars in sales taxes, MARTA needs almost 4 Million Dollars from each man, woman and child in the city of Atlanta just to stay running! Since the average person in Atlanta makes about $50,000 a year, each resident would have to work 76 years just to pay for the repairs that MARTA already needs but it wouldn’t even begin to expand capacity, improve service or reduce congestion in any way.

The numbers being tossed around by public transportation advocates aren’t just numbers, they are money that has to be collected from people that are suffering double digit unemployment along with plummeting property values and skyrocketing prices for food and gas. Politicians and bureaucrats may treat numbers with nine zeros in them like play money but taxpayers are the ones that have to pay the bill so we need to keep this money pit in perspective.

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Update 5/23/2011 7:30 p.m.

As some of you may have noticed my math on the post above was off by almost a trillion dollars and the result was a post which exaggerated the projected per capita cost to Atlanta residents a thousand-fold. Oops! It was a silly mistake which occuured because my calculator wouldn’t function in the billions and in my haste I incorrectly adjusted the numbers twice. I’d like to thank Michael Hadden for pointing out my error.

I do find it ironic that while trying to show how difficult it is to put transportation spending in perspective I actually ended up proving the point by illustrating how easily an error of 1000 percent could go unnoticed. I apologize for my carelessness and will immediately refund each of my readers a prorated share of their subscription fee. ;)

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6 thoughts on “The public transportation money pit in perspective

  1. Another good article, Jimmy. I’d like to see the 1 cent transportation sales tax vote broken into two votes… transit/rail expansion and road improvements. I don’t think it will happen as they will tease voters with a terrific list of improvements but saddle us with bloated MARTA costs.

    • Thanks Lee. I share your concern about the ol’ switcheroo and will use this opportunity to recite my creed about tax referendums: ““Once you vote to give the government your money they will do with it what they damn well please.” Cases in point, the GA 400 tolls and the money from the super speeder fees that were supposed to fund trauma centers.

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