Georgia State College of Law graduate Chris Tomlinson is using technology to ease the traffic and congestion problems in Atlanta.
By Jeremy Craig
“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.”
Anyone who’s been stuck in Atlanta traffic knows there’s room for improvement. According to Chris Tomlinson, head of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) and the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA), a TV show from the ‘70s may hold the answer to Atlanta’s traffic problems.
“I thought ‘The Six Million Dollar Man,’ was really cool,” said Tomlinson. “That actually started my fascination with computers and technology.”
For Tomlinson, technology is the key to mitigating congestion and transportation problems in Atlanta.
A graduate of Georgia State’s College of Law, he started his career as a lawyer, then became the head of the state government’s information technology division and is now at the helm of two agencies working to keep commuters moving.
SRTA is the agency that finances road construction through tolls, and GRTA administers a system of express commuter buses across the metro Atlanta region.
Recently named the head of GRTA, Tomlinson said he wants to take technological innovations used with SRTA projects to make GRTA’s express buses more attractive.
First, he’s pushing to add GPS technology on all of the buses so commuters can track the bus locations.
Second, he and his team are looking at adding Wi-Fi to the buses. If your bus gets stuck in traffic, why not catch up on work while you’re waiting?
“The technology is right there. It’s time to deploy it,” Tomlinson said. “It’ll be a benefit for riders that are already using it, but hopefully it will attract some new riders.”
Blending his SRTA experience with his new job at GRTA, the combination of tolls and transit have yielded a new project with technology at its core, recognizing that many Georgians will not completely give up their cars in favor of transit.
It’s a pilot program that awards toll lane credits to people who use GRTA bus routes. For users of certain GRTA routes, those bus customers who also have Peach Passes for the I-85 express toll lanes can receive credits for the toll lanes in return for using the GRTA express route.
“We want to sweeten the pot for commuters and give them an incentive to try different ways of commuting,” he said.
Some may say Atlanta is backwards when it comes to transportation. But Tomlinson said Atlanta has the potential to be the hub of transportation innovation by connecting cars to real-time traffic information and thinking about the future of self-driving cars.
Tomlinson’s legal education is useful when addressing the prospect of self-driving cars.
“Being in this field, from the technology aspect, the lawyer in me asks, when something does go wrong, who’s responsible?” he said. “I think these are fascinating issues that lawyers and other people are looking at, so these issues don’t slow down the advancement of technology.”
It’s the legal education that has been a great help for Tomlinson in his career, where he analyzes the ramifications of contracts and decisions along with the nitty-gritty details involved in the massive projects that come with state transportation agencies.
“I fully credit my legal education for absolutely shaping the way I think and approach problems and issues,” he said.
As for now, Tomlinson’s focus is Atlanta’s transportation. He’s hoping to make it better than it was. Better…stronger…faster.
Photos by Carolyn Richardson