Growing Georgia: The Future is Now with Mobility

June 1, 2019

Chris Tomlinson, Executive Director, State Road and Tollway Authority Interim Executive Director

This article appeared in the May 2019 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
M obility has become THE buzzword of the 21st century. Whether we are talking about autonomous cars, ridesharing, “Mobility as a Service,” buses, rail, bicycles or motorized scooters, we are seeing people embrace new, state-of-the-art ways to get from Point A to Point B all under the banner of mobility. Additionally, the movement of people and goods to, through and around our cities and regions is what keeps Georgia thriving. It drives our economy and connects us.

As the transportation industry rapidly changes, it is essential that we focus the energy and resources of our public agencies to provide the most efficient transportation systems possible. With the help of an extraordinarily dedicated and talented team, we are taking strides to address metro Atlanta’s congestion to facilitate the movement of people throughout the region and continue the State’s successful track record of economic growth.

Researching, examining and implementing the best solutions for commuters in the metro Atlanta area is a key component of the work we do daily. As our regional population of 5.7 million residents continues to rise, government must be proactive to mitigate the current challenges and shortcomings of our transportation networks. Our transportation systems must provide a wide range of options for our commuters that save them time and money, while also providing reliability.

You may be wondering, “what’s being done to tackle these challenges?” State government has taken a tremendous step by bringing an entity to life that will unify and coordinate metro Atlanta’s transit under one branded network—the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority (ATL). The establishment of the ATL is essential to our efforts to better serve the population of metro Atlanta residents who use the region’s various transit services. Functioning primarily as a planning agency, the ATL is not a substitute for current transit operators. Although ATL has the statutory authority to do both, the intent is not to duplicate the capabilities of agencies such as MARTA or CobbLinc, but rather to ensure that we coordinate, prioritize and sequence the much-needed investments across the region in a way that results in a more seamless and unified transit network. We want to provide residents with a system that is customer-focused and easy to use, whether you are a regular commuter or a first-time visitor to our region.

The ATL’s planning work is guided by Governing Principles covering six strategic areas: Economic Development & Land Use, Environmental Sustainability, Equity, Innovation, Mobility and Access, and Return on Investment. These principles will help us assess the most efficient and effective ways to prioritize our investments and sequence our projects to address needs across the region; thereby driving connectivity, mobility and economic growth.

As metro Atlanta continues its population growth, it is essential for us to devise new and innovative strategies for reducing congestion. We must be multi-modal in our thinking and investments in order to move the needle on our urban congestion challenges. That’s why the ATL and its joint staffing structure with the State Road and Tollway Authority is so vital. This allows the combined authorities to plan our region’s transit and Express Lanes investments in conjunction with the state’s major highway, bridge and freight investments.

Further, the ATL Board composed of 10 multicounty regional transit districts provides a channel for local input into the planning and decision-making of the ATL. Coupled with six state-level appointees, this provides a cohesive state/local structure to govern our transit network investment strategies. The ATL will work with all transit operators in the region to connect existing services and expand transit options where it makes sense and where the public desires it. The ATL will also work with private sector providers such as ride-share companies Uber and Lyft, as well as mobile app providers such as Waze and Google Maps to leverage technological solutions that enhance mobility options. The ATL’s list of stakeholders doesn’t stop with just public and private transportation entities—we will engage the business community, workforce development entities such as Goodwill, land use and housing experts and the public, because we are not looking at mobility for the sake of mobility. Rather, we are seeking to leverage mobility to enhance the way we live and travel through our region. Local and regional bus service, heavy rail, bus rapid transit, autonomous shuttles and even vanpools will be joined with private ride-share services to create a meshed network of services and options for robust on-demand journey planning and expanded connectivity.

As you can see, we have our work cut out for us! It’s an exciting time in Georgia, since there are so many opportunities to advance our transit services, infrastructure and technology. Our state has done a great job of maintaining its status as the “No. 1 state for business,” and with our focus on mobility, I am confident that we will become a national model for innovative solutions that address urban congestion and keep Georgians moving.

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