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The Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority has said repeatedly that it doesn't get enough money from the state.
And unlike any major system in the United States, the money it does receive is far from a sure thing, its advocates have said. Georgia law does not require that the state set aside funds for MARTA.
Michael W. Tyler, MARTA's chairman, made the claim once again in a June 9 op-ed piece that appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He argued that MARTA has done well with limited resources.
"[U]nlike every other major transit system in the nation, MARTA has never received any significant, dedicated funding from the state of Georgia," Tyler said.
But is it true? We asked MARTA to back up its claim.
MARTA spokesman Lyle Harris explained that during the past 15 years, the agency has consistently received about $2 million annually from the General Assembly for capital expenses, such as the cost of replacing buses or other infrastructure.
But this money is not dedicated to MARTA. "Dedicated" funds are monies that must, by state law, go to a specific purpose. Because this money isn't dedicated, MARTA must ask the state Legislature for money every year. This makes it hard for MARTA to plan its budgets.
This isn't MARTA's only funding problem, Harris said. While the $2 million is important to the agency, it's only a drop in the bucket. MARTA's capital budget is usually larger than $250 million.
Furthermore, Harris said, MARTA receives no dedicated operating funding from the state or money to run the system day to day. Harris provided PolitiFact Georgia a spreadsheet with operating funds data from the Federal Transit Administration's National Transit Database (NTD), which collects information on the country's transit systems. The data were from 2008, the most recent year available.
They showed that MARTA was the country's ninth-largest transit system by "unlinked passenger trips" in 2008, a commonly used measure that counts each time a passenger boards a MARTA vehicle.
But the data didn't back up MARTA's claim. Instead, the federal data it sent show that MARTA is a very large agency that receives no operating funds from the state. That, however, is not the same thing as being the only major transit system that receives no dedicated state funding, as Tyler said.
We did our own check, which revealed one transit system larger than MARTA that does not receive state-dedicated operating or capital funds: the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
The WMATA operates trains and buses in the Washington, D.C., area and is the fourth-largest transit system in the country. It is nearly three times the size of MARTA by unlinked passenger trips. Federal data, an agency spokesman and a scholar with the Brookings Institution who has studied the Washington system confirm it does not receive state-dedicated operating funds or capital funds.
Still, the WMATA receives far more state funding than MARTA does. According to 2008 data, 18 percent of its operating funds came from Maryland and Virginia, or more than $250 million.
MARTA received no state funding for operations that year, federal data show.
Harris argues that MARTA's situation is unique. When the WMATA asks for state money, it receives hundreds of millions of dollars. MARTA doesn't get anything close to this type of funding from Georgia, Harris said.
"Whether we ask or not, we don't get anything akin to what WMATA is getting," Harris said.
That may be correct, but that's not what Tyler said. His op-ed argued that MARTA is the only major transit agency in the country that receives no "significant, dedicated" funding from the state. Not that it's barely getting anything from the state or that state funding makes up only a tiny percentage of its budget.
We rule Tyler's statement Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Well-managed MARTA has made do with little," June 9, 2010
Federal Transit Administration, National Transit Database, accessed Aug. 9, 2010
American Public Transportation Association, 2010 Public Transportation Fact Book, April 2010
The Brookings Institution, "Washington's Metro: Deficits by Design," June 2004
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Revenue and Expense Forecast Evaluation, 2011-2016, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, April 2010
E-mail interview, Ketrina Nelson, spokeswoman, Federal Transit Administration, Aug. 6, 2010
Interview, Aaron Donovan, spokesman, MTA Bus Co., Aug. 5, 2010
Interview, Rick Jager, spokesman, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Aug. 5, 2010
Interview, Steven Taubenkibel, spokesman, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Aug, 9, 2010
Interview, Dan Stessel, spokesman, New Jersey Transit, Aug. 9, 2010
Interview, Rochelle Ogershok, King County Metro Transit, Aug. 9, 2010
Interview, Michael Meyer, director of the Georgia Transportation Institute, Georgia Tech, Aug. 5, 2010
Interview, Steve Coleman, spokesman, Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp., Aug. 5, 2010
Interview, Daria Serna, spokeswoman, (Denver) Regional Transportation District, Aug. 5, 2010
Interview, Robert Puentes, senior fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, the Brookings Institution, Aug. 4, 2010
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