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Bill to improve rural Georgia transit passes House
Kevin Tanner
Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville. - photo by For the Dawson County News

An amended version of a bill that will attempt to expand transit options for rural Georgians was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives last week.

Sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, House Bill 511 would seek to streamline the state agencies that oversee transit options, allocate sales tax from rideshares to transit projects and create pilot programs to help rural Georgians gain access to transportation options.

Tanner was appointed chairman of the newly created House Commission on Transit Governance in Funding in 2017, and the commission met 10 times over a year and a half, working to identify ways to remove transportation barriers in the state.

Last year Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill into law that focused on expanding transit in metro Atlanta, a bill also sponsored by Tanner.

Tanner presented HB 511 March 7 on the House floor, where it passed 159-11.

“In Georgia, transit is managed by six state agencies, 27 planning organizations and over 95 local agencies,” Tanner said. “The complex structure creates administrative inefficiency and unnecessary red tape. Some parts of Georgia, primarily in rural Georgia, with high poverty rates do not have access to any type of public transportation...to help residents access jobs, education or health care. Thirty-six counties currently lack any public transit system, affecting more than 1 million people in our state.”

One of the first things the bill would do is eliminate the existing Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and instate the Georgia Department of Mobility and Innovation. The organization will utilize the same offices and personnel but will “consolidate, streamline and better utilize limited resources,” according to Tanner.

The bill would also implement “mobility zones” throughout the state outside of metro Atlanta.

“There will be a mobility manager in each region around the state, someone on the ground, working with local businesses, the community, the nonprofits, the private sector, the local government, to understand what the barriers are and  help remove barriers to transportation,” Tanner said.

The bill also sets up three pilot programs that would “incentivize local communities and the private sector to partner and create new mobility solutions.”

Among those programs is the possibility for companies to receive a tax credit if they hire unemployed individuals and provide them with transportation.

“One of the things we heard as we traveled the state, especially in rural Georgia, is one of the biggest barriers to someone accessing a job was the inability to have good transportation,” Tanner said.

The programs would also provide direct mobility assistance to the unemployed in the 22 poorest counties in the state by providing transit vouchers to the unemployed.

The idea is to test the programs to see if they could be implemented on a wider scale.

A difference from the original draft of the legislation is that it will allocate state sales tax collected on rideshares to fund the mobility programs.

Originally, the bill included a 50 cent fee per ride for rideshare companies like taxis, limousine services, Uber and Lyft. Though the sales tax is currently part of state law, Uber and Lyft do not pay state sales tax because they say they are not transportation companies like taxis, a matter which is currently being debated.

“There is absolutely no tax increase in this legislation,” Tanner said.

Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, praised the legislation and the included pilot programs.

“We can’t continue to do the same things we have done in the past,” Harrell said. “This will be local programs for local solutions throughout our state.”

He also echoed Tanner’s comment that the bill includes no new tax.  

“It recognizes the will of this General Assembly to appropriate from growing ride-share revenues funding to implement these rural transit projects,” he said.