MARTA is in the news a lot lately in Fulton County, as they push for more funds to expand heavy rail, especially in North Fulton County. We are told of the benefits of MARTA, and one could argue that there are indeed benefits, especially for those that do not own vehicles.
MARTA is pushing today for a sales tax increase that would increase their sales tax revenues by 50%. By doing so, Fulton County will be increasing the subsidies that are given for each MARTA rider.
But what is the true cost of of this Mass Transit system today, and where do the funds come from? Is it a positive or negative expense when it comes to other modes of transport?
Only 22% of MARTA’s funding comes from fares.
Twenty-two per cent of MARTA’s funding comes from Fare Revenue, 58% from sales tax revenues, and the other 20% from other sources such as State and Federal government. What would it cost if MARTA relied entirely on fares, and not on sales tax dollars,and federal and state dollars?
Using this data, I can make a rough calculation of just what this trip on MARTA would cost”.
“MARTA needs an additional $8.86 to cover the cost of one trip.”
Let’s take family of four, who have decided to take a trip to the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coke. They would need to spend $20 in fares to go to those attractions and return. To also help cover the cost of these trips, MARTA today collects an additional $8.86 per trip, or $70.88, for a total of $90.88.
While that may be a great deal for the family on that day, is that really a great deal for our society overall?
We must ask ourselves should we spend more than necessary overall just for the sake of spending it?
The distance from North Springs MARTA Station (a possible boarding point for our family) is 14.9 miles by vehicle to the World of Coke, according to Google Maps.
Before gas prices plunged, the estimated cost to drive a large SUV (insurance, taxes , gas, etc) was 75.7 cents per mile. It’s much cheaper now to fuel up. but even at the higher price per mile, it’s still cheaper.
Therefore the distance to and from our destinations would be 30 miles. The cost would be around $22.71 plus parking. Splurge on parking for $15 dollars and the trip costs $37.71. More than $53 less expensive than mass transit.
“Are We Better Off In The End?”
Is our society better off by having a family of four taking mass transit for a total real cost of $90.88, or taking their own vehicle for a cost of $37.71?
The other $53.17 must come from somewhere. Where that somewhere is can be debated. Taken from your pockets every time you spend a dollar, taken from your tax returns at both the federal and state levels, taken from your future earnings as we pay off the ever increasing federal debt, it will be taken.
Here is one of the major shortcomings of Mass Transit and why it fails to compete with personal vehicles: In your own vehicle, the cost per passenger per mile plummets the more passengers you have. With Mass Transit, your costs increase proportionally.
“There are no economies of scale with Mass Transit”
For the family of four the cost per passenger for this trip is $37.71 divided by four, or $9.42 per passenger. Add another passenger and it would only be $7.52. Add another passenger on Mass Transit and you will spend 20% more on fares.
I’d argue no, our society is NOT better off. We’d be better off if every family was able to keep as much of their earned income as possible and spend it in a manner that they chose.
Imagine for a second that MARTA did not exist. There would be a lot more money in the pockets of everyone in Atlanta. Money they could spend on dining, retail, health care, entertainment and other choices.
It’s my belief that we need our elected officials to look at the true total costs of any project or service that they promote, and are asking their constituents to fund. It’s also inappropriate to look at a project and say it’s costing us less because we are getting Federal and State dollars to offset the costs. Unless you are exempt from federal and state taxes, you (or your children in the future) will be paying for the entire costs. There is no free ride.
I’ll leave you to think about that choice. Then share with me your thoughts. I’d love to know whether or not you still think MARTA is Smarta after all?