Channel 2 Action News has learned that state transportation authorities are giving MARTA and the city of Atlanta 19 days to solidify plans to correct scores of problems with the Atlanta Streetcar, many of which state and federal regulators pointed out months ago.
In a blunt letter to the two agencies this week obtained exclusively by Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher, Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry wrote:
“Should the Corrective Action Plans submitted by June 14, 2016, not be compliant, the Department…will order the Atlanta Streetcar to immediately cease operations.”
A shutdown in mid-June would be a huge disappointment to streetcar planners who are counting on an upsurge of riders during the summer months.
Channel 2 Action News reported last month that ridership on the $4 million cars dropped 45 percent in the first three months of this year.
The city projects that revenue for the first 18-months of fare operations will bring in less than 10 percent of the revenue needed to operate the system.
The letter dated May 23 to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and MARTA’s Keith Parker cites a long list of problems which were identified but which streetcar officials have not corrected.
The letter cites staffing problems, training problems, inadequate investigations of accidents and the need to “ensure the safety of the traveling public.”
State Senator Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, calls the letter very embarrassing.
Fort proposed legislation during the last session of the General Assembly that would have moved primary responsibility for operating the streetcars from the city to MARTA.
The bill failed, but Fort is convinced that would be an improvement.
“It really is looking amateurish, and it ought to be given over to people who know what they’re doing,” Fort told Belcher.
The letter says GDOT ordered the streetcar to make 48 corrective actions last August, but only seven have been made.
In November, the state expressed, “immediate concerns,” about a long list of problems, but McMurry wrote, “Nearly seven months later, those concerns remain critical.”
In February, GDOT listed 55 problems that needed corrected. The commissioner says the streetcar has provided accepted responses to just six of those concerns
“There’s no room for interpretation other than: City Hall, you messed up, and if you don’t correct it now, we’re going to shut you down,” Fort said about the letter.
In a statement to Channel 2 Thursday afternoon, McMurry says, “It’s the Department’s expectation that these outstanding items will be resolved.”
The streetcar system began revenue operations Dec. 30, 2014, after long delays and huge large cost overruns. The total cost was about $99 million.
A grant from the Federal Transit Administration provided $47 million. Federal grants will pick up much of the roughly $5 million annual operating and maintenance costs for the first five years.
The city and the Downtown Improvement District, which represents the business community, are supplementing that and will eventually be responsible for all costs.
GDOT will continue to work with the city and MARTA to ensure this project meets federal requirements.
The city sent Channel 2 Action News a statement saying:
“The City of Atlanta has worked diligently and cooperatively with state and federal regulators to provide the best possible service and experience for Atlanta Streetcar riders. In the most recent reporting month, the Atlanta Streetcar has achieved 98 percent on-time service for its passengers.
"Since August 2015, the City has submitted numerous Corrective Action Plan (CAP) logs and reports to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), in consultation with safety experts and transit consultants. The City is eager to receive feedback in order to continue the review process and to meet the agency’s request to finalize all action log items in mid-June.
"Atlanta has not had streetcars for nearly fifty years. This means all stakeholders, from the City as the operator of the Streetcar, to our regulatory partners to the riding public, have an opportunity to experience a new mode of transportation in our city. These opportunities come with challenges, but the City remains focused on learning and getting stronger.
"With every round of submissions to GDOT, the Atlanta Streetcar shows improvements. The City is committed to operating the Atlanta Streetcar safely and effectively. We take GDOT’s feedback seriously and will continue to make every effort to work with the agency to address all action items by the date requested.
"The Atlanta Streetcar is a safe, clean and functional asset in our city’s transportation network, is an essential part of our work to expand transit and is a key driver of economic development. In the years since the Atlanta Streetcar was awarded the TIGER grant, more than $2 billion of new economic development has occurred within a five minute walk of the tracks. New residents and new businesses are moving into downtown Atlanta. Earlier this year, Post Properties broke ground on its $96 million new residential tower, across from Centennial Olympic Park and just two and a half blocks from a Streetcar stop. We are building a transportation system which works for everyone, in all parts of our city. The Atlanta Streetcar is part of the fabric of our city, and will become more important as it grows.”