by T.A. DeFeo
As a lifelong Atlantan, state Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, has experienced MARTA’s past.
Now, he’s positioned to help shape its future.
Georgia Lt. Governor Burt Jones recently appointed Emanuel Jones to the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Overview Committee.
“I’m an Atlanta resident. I was born and raised in the city, and I remember when MARTA in the 70s first was voted on,” Emanuel Jones said. “And of course, there’s a bus station that ran right by my house; that was my primary means of transportation while I was growing up.”
Here is what the state senator had to say.
How would you say MARTA is today compared to when it was voted on in the 1970s? Do you think it’s lived up to what it could be, or has it fallen short in those five decades?
In those five decades, there was hope that it would be a much more connected system than it is today. And I think, unfortunately, regionalism got in the way, and people started setting up their own transit outside of the metropolitan area rather than connecting to MARTA. And the system kind of grew in isolation … and in a way, those of us that grew up in the city kind of felt like MARTA really didn’t live up to its expectations.
Is it too late at this point? Is it possible to go back and really either integrate them all into Marta or just make them work better from a regional standpoint?
It is possible, and that’s what we did when we passed legislation in 2018, creating the ATL board. And the whole purpose of the ATL board is to find some synergy between these various systems so no one is duplicating services and try to root out the inefficiency in the systems so that dollars can be saved and people can be moved around much easier.
Does the state need to make more of an investment? From the committee’s standpoint, what recommendations might be necessary?
DeKalb and Fulton [counties have] carried the mantle for MARTA. But certainly, the state has a role to play because as this metropolitan area has grown, these communities have become a lot more connected. …The state also has the ability to draw down funds from the federal government as well, dollars that can be spent in our communities improving on the various modes of transportation.
One of the criticisms is that there are not enough people taking public transit, which is expensive. The counterargument is that we should build more interstates; people want to drive. What would you say to people who might make that argument?
I’m a car dealer. …I do enjoy riding around in automobiles. And aside from my profession, I also understand that as this community continues to grow, we can’t build ourselves out of it without having other modes of transportation. …We need to do more, and I certainly hope that my serving on this board is going to be the voice that will be able to say that and say it loud enough.
Can we afford it as a country? Spending is a constant issue, and federal dollars often come into the mix for transit systems, whether it’s grants or different ways that come down to the transit systems.
Absolutely. I think what the public is asking the government to do is to make that initial investment. …I would hope that whatever investment government makes in these systems [is] a large enough and [over] a long enough period to pay it back where the system can reimburse government for those dollars that were allocated and spent. Because the dollars we spend in government are really our own money that we’re contributing to the government to trust them with the care of doing what’s the best in the public’s interest.
There are so many cities and counties in metro Atlanta. Does that add an extra layer of challenge to try to get everybody on board?
It does. But that’s what the state government is about. That’s what this ATL board was created [for] in 2018 … to bring these counties [and] cities together and give them a seat at the table and make decisions that are in the best interests of the region, rather than just what’s in the best interests of your city or your county. That’s the purpose of the ATL board.
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T.A. DeFeo is a contributor to The Center Square.
Photo “Emanuel Jones” by Senator Emanuel Jones. Background Photo “MARTA” by Gdfhjjbb. CC BY-SA 4.0.