NORTH METRO ATLANTA, Ga. — The metro region’s transit planning agency is advancing a regional fare policy study designed to upgrade and bring uniformity to how patrons pay to get around.

At a special online meeting of the Atlanta Region Transit Link Authority (the ATL) July 9, senior planner Aileen Daney outlined some of the future milestones the agency is working toward as it draws up a fare plan.

The purpose of the study is to devise a regional fare strategy in collaboration with transit operators, like MARTA, Xpress and CobbLinc, in the 13-county Atlanta Region.

Goals include simplifying the fare system, addressing environmental concerns and mitigating inadequacies in serving those with disabilities.

The first phase of the study, now underway, includes studying local and national transit systems and technologies to garner ideas on whether their fare systems might be implemented in the ATL region. Right now, the study committee is focusing on transit systems in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Chicago.

Daney said the project team has been in contact with other area transit agencies to collect data on ridership, their scope of service, characteristics of their commuters, base fares and fare collection equipment.

Representatives from local transit services told team members that the most important criteria they are looking for in a uniform fare system is providing a good customer experience. They said financial sustainability, affordability and ridership impact are other key factors to consider.

ATL board members zeroed in on Ventra, an account-based system used by three participating agencies in and around Chicago. Under the system, customers pay a one-time $5 fee for a Ventra Card that is immediately refunded as transit value upon registration. They can use the card to tap and board public trains and buses. It has online account management as well as protection against lost or stolen cards.

The second phase of the fare study, scheduled for completion in April 2021, includes calculating customer price sensitivity and developing a fare model and recommendations.

In other business at the July 9 meeting, the ATL Board voted to accept Gwinnett County’s proposal to expand its transit footprint and include heavy rail service through MARTA. Funding for the expansion, estimated at over $12 million, would probably come through a penny sales tax.

Gwinnett County commissioners voted June 16 to lay the groundwork to give county voters the opportunity — possibly this fall — to adopt a special sales tax to fund incorporation into the transit system, which serves DeKalb, Fulton and Clayton counties. The commission must vote to include a transit referendum on the November ballot by the end of July.

Gwinnett voters rejected the idea in a referendum held in March 2019, but proponents say the issue might fare better if placed on the ballot during the presidential election.

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