Headline: Transit tax survey shows 61 percent in Cobb want more transit, and only 8 percent want less transit.

Headline: Transit tax survey shows 59 percent of Cobb support increased taxes to pay for more transit.

But, that’s not the whole story.

On a question of why would you favor creating a new sales tax for transit, 43 percent responded that they believed it would result in less traffic congestion. In reality, even if Cobb were able to build a rail transit line in one corridor, rail transit is such an inefficient form of transportation compared to driving, that few people would give up their cars in favor of rail transit. At best, transit would likely have a minimal impact on reducing traffic congestion.

Consider what happened after the I-85 bridge collapse last year. We had temporary conditions that obstructed traffic so badly that thousands of commuters rode the MARTA trains rather than drive, because temporarily, the train was faster than driving. Almost immediately after the bridge reopened, nearly all of those commuters went back to driving. Yes, normal traffic was still bad. But driving was still much faster and more efficient than rail transit.

Nationally, on average, total door-to-door trip times are nearly double for rail transit, compared to driving. The inefficiency of rail transit as a form of transportation is likely the biggest reason why, nationally and locally, rail transit ridership has been steadily declining for years.

Just a few years ago, Cobb spent nearly $5 million studying a fixed guideway rail transit proposal for Cobb Parkway. In the end, the Environmental Analysis admitted that if that project were built as proposed, it would make future traffic congestion worse than if Cobb did nothing. So, building a fixed guideway rail transit infrastructure does not automatically translate into less traffic congestion.

If we truly want to improve mobility, we will be more successful by investing in efficient 21st century technologies, rather than expensive, inefficient 19th century technology.

Another survey question asked how large of a tax increase were respondents willing to pay.

Only 26 percent said they were willing to pay a full 1 percent, plus an additional 4 percent said they were willing to pay more than 1 percent.

38 percent opposed any new taxes.

29 percent supported paying up to half of one percent.

So, a total of 30 percent were willing to pay 1 percent or more, and a total of 67 percent were willing to pay a half percent or less.

What percentage of respondents supported collecting the tax countywide? Only 36 percent. So, if we wind up with a full 1 percent sales tax, but collect it in only 60 percent of the county, that will result in 40 percent less money to work with. If we wind up with a half of one percent collected in only half of the county, that’s even less. But, if there is a shortfall, all taxpayers countywide have to cover the shortfall.

And now, here is the biggest red flag of all.

Should Cobb spend more transportation dollars for roads only, rail transit only, combination of roads and rail transit, or don’t spend any more money at all?

Only 7 percent said don’t spend any more money to improve transportation.

22 percent said roads only.

Only 11 percent said rail transit only.

57 percent supported investing in a combination of both roads and rail transit.

HB 930 requires that 100 percent of the projects list must be rail transit only. Only 11 percent of respondents said they support rail transit only.

The survey clearly shows support for some additional transit investment. The survey does not suggest that Cobb supports a massive, multi-billion dollar transit-only investment.

Cobb could try to package a half-percent HB 930 transit sales tax along with another half percent HB 170 transportation sales tax that would pay for other types of transportation improvements. But, under current law, they could not be combined into one item on the ballot, so there is no guarantee that both or either would be approved by voters.

Rep. Ed Setzler has pointed out that every time government spends transportation dollars on projects that will do little to improve mobility, those are dollars that we no longer have to spend on other projects that would accomplish more to improve mobility.

I would add that if we increase taxes to raise a few billion dollars and spend it all in only one corridor, we will have squandered our financial ability to address real transportation needs in many other corridors in Cobb County.

Ron Sifen’s views are his own and do not represent the opinions of any other group.

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