GA: Atlanta, MARTA to Jointly Operate Streetcar

One of the lingering questions about the Atlanta Streetcar  who will manage its day-to-day operations  —? has been decided.

MARTA Chief Executive Officer Keith Parker said Monday that the transit authority and the city of Atlanta "generally agree" that the city will operate the streetcar system with assistance from MARTA that will taper off over time.

"We will help them at the outset of getting that service up and running," Parker said. "Then over time, they would like to create and build up their own strength to be able to operate the service."

Melissa Mullinax, spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed, confirmed the agreement to jointly operate the streetcar service with MARTA. She said the details still have to be approved by the MARTA board and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District.

It is unclear when those votes will happen.

The city produced cost estimates earlier this year showing it can run the system for $3.18 million a year — compared to $4.24 million for MARTA or $4.56 million for a private contractor.

One reason for that difference is insurance. The city estimated its insurance cost for operating the streetcar system at almost $1 million less than MARTA and about $586,000 cheaper than a third-party vendor in a cost comparison document that city staffers generated in January. Details about how officials arrived at those numbers were not immediately available.

Parker said he hopes MARTA will have a larger role in future expansions of the streetcar system, like a planned (but as-yet unfunded) $2.3 billion light rail system on the Beltline.

"If the city wants to get into learning how to own and operate a system, I don't have any objection to that," Parker said. "When they look to expand throughout the entire Beltline area, we think we will be the best-suited to run a more robust level of service like that."

The $100 million Atlanta Streetcar, which loops from Centennial Olympic Park to the King Center, has been bedeviled by cost overruns and schedule delays since it broke ground last June.

The last two of four streetcars are expected to arrive by the end of the month, at which time the city will begin doing test runs with the equipment, said Sharon Gavin, spokeswoman for the Atlanta Streetcar. Service is expected to begin this summer.

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