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‘State of MARTA’ provides vision of vibrant future

By Titus Falodun Staff Writer | 12/20/2013, 6 a.m.
Keith Parker is the general mangaer and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.

ATLANTA – Welcome to the bustling metropolis of parking lot traffic that lights up like Christmas for miles around at any given time.

That has been the recent history of the growing, troubling congestion in the city of Atlanta, as population and economic growth has left the roads overflowing with vehicles and irate drivers.

But using public transportation is not perceived to be an option in combating the gridlock circulation.

The “State of MARTA” gathering held early morning on Friday, December 13 at the MARTA’s Lindbergh Center headquarters, the public transportation agency’s rising star, GM/CEO Keith Parker, who is just more than a year into his duties, shed light on how MARTA is a good option that is getting better.

“Everything we’re doing is about accountability,” Parker said. “Our customers, employees and taxpayers should know the transit system is being managed wisely so that their investment in MARTA will keep paying dividends.”

In the gathering, which was more of a business breakfast, MARTA’s staff entertained local politicians and civic leaders.

Since last year, MARTA’s efforts has been focused on making significant changes to improve its business model, focusing on the following issues: financial stability and sustainability, customer service, and making MARTA highly valued place of employment.

At year’s end, MARTA finds itself with a $9 million in profit, which is a major mark, considering the agency was dealing with a $33 million deficit.

Furthermore, in the past 15 years, MARTA has only had a balanced budget twice.

“[There’s an enormously negative perception of the transit system,” Parker told the breakfast participants.

He’s right…and there’s a reason for it.

MARTA suffered a huge blow, along with the nation, when the Great Recession of 2008 hit the economy in the gut. Depending primarily on sales tax from DeKalb and Fulton, the public transit agency found itself failing and freefalling.

It forced MARTA to reduce staff greatly, make cuts on the number of bus routes (131 to 91), increase fares significantly, shut down restrooms, etc.

“Despite all those cuts, the trend was still dismal,” Parker said.

The catalyst for the turnaround was the MARTA figuring out ways to improve operating efficiency. So, coupled with the cuts, brighter days have emerged.

“We’ll be making some major announcements on our transit-oriented development program in the next three to four weeks, including a huge new opportunity around the King-Memorial Station,” Parker said.

The agency is looking to disclose plans for commercial development around its stations. New signs displaying the train schedules are coming. The bus fleets will be replaced in the next threes years, and efforts are being made to be proactively on the Atlanta Braves’ proposed move to Cobb County (in order to provided consistent and reliable service to travelers).

“MARTA should be commended for their leadership,” Governor Nathan Deal said at the breakfast.

“I have been impressed with the new leadership at MARTA, and I think that more and more members of the legislature are impressed with the leadership at MARTA, and we will see how that unfolds.”