- Associated Press - Saturday, March 18, 2017

ATLANTA (AP) - Dozens of problems have been identified in a stinging audit of the Atlanta Streetcar.

Documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (https://bit.ly/2mV9AFA ) show the troubled $99 million project is dealing with a shortage in staff, lax safety and security procedures, accidents that weren’t properly investigated or reported and defective equipment that disrupted service.

More than a year later, the newspaper reports the city has resolved less than one-third of the 66 flaws found in February 2016 for a project envisioned as a centerpiece of the city’s revitalization.

The city has completely resolved only 20 of them. It’s unclear how soon officials will complete the rest of the audit’s concerns. The Georgia Department of Transportation says the city is on track to finish the list by June.

Ridership fell nearly 60 percent last year after Atlanta began charging $1 to ride, federal statistics show. And the city estimates a third to a half of passengers still don’t bother to pay.

Critics argue the streetcar is a failure and waste of taxpayers’ dollars and should be abandoned.

Instead, Atlanta plans a major expansion.

The Atlanta Streetcar debuted in December 2014 to great fanfare and high expectations. The system runs on a 2.7-mile loop that connects Centennial Olympic Park, the King Center, Georgia State University and the Peachtree Center MARTA rail station. Critics say it’s sometimes faster to walk the line that to wait on a streetcar that winds through traffic.

Despite the rocky start, the city still hopes to use the existing line as a launching point to create a 53-mile streetcar and light rail network across the city. It’s a move that would cost billions, but supporters contend it’s a long-term investment that will transform Atlanta as it expands, connecting to the Beltline and other attractions and drawing a new generation of workers and residents.

The streetcar’s problems, they argue, are the growing pains of a fledgling system.

“I think that over time it will prove successful, even with the toughest critics,” said A. J. Robinson, president of the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, which helped pay for the streetcar. “If Atlanta wants to be competitive with the rest of the country . these are the types of investments you have to make.”

Auditors say the streetcar now is adequately staffed and has implemented a comprehensive training program. It’s also complied with hazard reporting rules and updated security and other plans.

State officials say they’re pleased with Atlanta’s recent progress. GDOT has accepted Atlanta’s plans to fix all of the outstanding issues raised in the audit. That’s a big change from last spring, when the agency threatened to shut the streetcar down because Atlanta was not adequately addressing its concerns.

“They are headed in the right direction now,” GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said in a recent interview.

“It’s never ‘check the box and you’re done,’” McMurry said. “Like any kind of inspection or audit, there’s always things that need to be tweaked.”

The streetcar’s future, however, remains unclear.

Public Works Commissioner William Johnson said the Federal Transit Administration will audit Atlanta later this year to gauge its progress.


Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, https://www.ajc.com

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