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Can MARTA Get Smarter?

By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 6/14/2013, 6 a.m.
Gridlock on metro Atlanta interstate highways is driving some commuters to the edge.
The open seats on local trains and buses go against the national trend.

“I also recognize that we must do a better job in addressing the needs of our customers and we’ll be doing that in several significant ways. Since I ride MARTA every day, one of the frequent complaints I hear is about what I call ‘knucklehead’ behavior where some of our customers are being rude, uncivil or are breaking the law by panhandling or peddling on the trains or buses. This is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. MARTA will be cracking down on knucklehead behavior and customers who create problems for other passengers will be kicked off the system and won’t be allowed to ride for a period of time. We will also be focusing on improving customer service to ensure that our employees treat every customer with respect and dignity at all times. “Over the next several years, we’ll also be looking to re-open some of the rail station restrooms that were closed as well as restoring some of the transit service that had been cut in the past for financial reasons. Taken together, all these initiatives will enhance the transit experience, and help us to attract a new generation of MARTA customers.

Over the next five years, it’s also absolutely critical to MARTA’s survival that we get our costs under control while also identifying new sources of revenue. Toward that end we have drafted a “road map” that will make us more cost-effective through sourcing some agency functions to private sector companies as well as reducing our healthcare costs. The savings we expect to reap from these initiatives will enable us to re-invest in our customers, our employees and our transit system. In order for MARTA to thrive going forward, we are looking to bring in more funding from sources such as new advertising opportunities and concessions and by expanding our Transit-Oriented Development program that will create public-private partnerships that will maximize the value of the real estate around our transit stations.”

AV: MARTA is considering a privatization that could cut nearly 800 jobs. What is the status of the plan, and how would a job reduction impact service for the average rider? 

KP: “Any such predictions about how many jobs might be affected are premature. Our staff is still reviewing the projected savings we might realize through sourcing some of MARTA’s administrative and operational functions as well as other initiatives that are underway. More important, while we are considering a host of different ways to transform MARTA from top to bottom, our overarching goal is to improve the customer experience in everything we do.”

AV: Will MARTA ask the state Legislature to renew its waiver from a state requirement that they spend half of the sales dollars it receives on capital improvements and half on operations? How does more flexibility help the bottom line at MARTA?

KP: “MARTA has not drafted its agenda for the 2014 Legislative session, which doesn’t begin until next January. In recent years, MARTA has requested a total elimination of the so-called “50/50” restriction because it needlessly limits the flexibility that the MARTA Board needs to make prudent financial decisions for the transit system. While flexibility doesn’t ‘help’ the bottom line, per se, it enables the MARTA Board, which is responsible for setting policy, to fully exercise their fiduciary responsibilities.”