Look, if someone is in custody for killing an Atlanta mayor, and if the mayor wasn’t in attendance, that would make your city the victim of your pride. Certainly nobody’s asking for traffic tickets here. How do you keep it clean, Dean Smith? This sorry case of lukewarm racial disharmony and all-night car crashes is inspiring some workarounds. For example, the AP reports that a civic association has voted to pull out of the mayor’s small, teal public bus service called P3.
“It’s unfair for me to walk around Atlanta, to say nothing of the past mayors, and say we have one of the finest systems in the country,” the former co-chairman of the advisory group on P3 told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Our perception is that we have one of the worst.”
Wasn’t Atlanta’s P3 service supposedly dedicated to creating jobs by improving city traffic? No. The company behind the project, Great American Regional Transportation Authority, was supposed to have split $1.5 billion in federal money between seven cities, including Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. Atlanta’s P3 contract included a pledge to have the city contribute some $50 million annually to the funding program.
The requirement left some city council members annoyed and raised concerns with City Manager Torrey Ward. A public letter from Atlanta’s civic leaders promised to defer a city vote on the agreement until early summer, when a different round of federal money would be available.
In October, a jury found that former District Councilman Allen Kennedy killed Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson in a 1990 shooting. Kennedy was on parole at the time of the murder.
So now Atlanta’s driving citizens to privately funded municipal service, but hey, it’s a start. This thing won’t work out: More than once, public services have been a way for city governments to get their hands on more money. Look at Dallas County, Texas.
Per Duke University researchers, Americans gave Dallas-area officials nearly three times as much public money in return for transporting public buses during decades of riding and waiting. In a study published in 2012, the researchers projected that transportation funding could cost as much as $250 million by the year 2060.
For some reason, the story in Atlanta has focused on the second death of ex-mayor Jackson and the first of Kennedy. The story notes that more transportation is needed, but it’s tough to understand how the city is going to fund the service the way it did in the 1970s and ’80s without getting more of its citizens to help pay.
“We need people to take action and get out in the suburbs to get on board,” charter school board chairman Darian Pearson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s not happening. And I think a more serious conversation is needed about how to get transportation work done.”
This is a city trying to tell other cities, city managers, and private businesses “Our bad. We will do better.” The one thing the city got right was its focus on how to create jobs. As recently as 2010, Georgia’s congressman held up a city initiative for providing 50 part-time jobs for seniors and disabled veterans as a huge financial boon to the city. That quote comes courtesy of Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist John Millner, who wrote that the program “will generate $4 million in tax revenue for the city that will be poured into its General Fund budget.”
And so, Atlanta gets a second chance, whether the City Council meets in the suburbs, which is one possible future outcome if the bus service still isn’t up and running by late May. If the P3 money remains the way it is, the city will likely have to promise to set up the same benefit for one of its recent mass transit projects. We would rather have that money as personal incentive rather than as mandated spending.
Or Atlanta can sell its white news media to be great at nothing and start thinking like a city. Houston used to say things like “Our city is blessed to have the tax-supported Interstate 45 Highway that is the fastest-growing urban highway in the nation.” The media probably helped.
That city also had a way to spend the money wisely: TV stations there offered news reports that included almost an entire segment about I-45. This was decades before local and national media started using the Five Square News Network.