A new MARTA: Good news highlighted by GM Keith Parker

By David Pendered

MARTA GM Keith Parker on Friday painted a portrait of MARTA that’s dramatically improved from the doom-and-gloom image sketched in last year’s management audit by KPMG.

Keith Parker

Keith Parker

Parker presented MARTA as a service provider that’s determined to balance its budget by raising money through land leases and improving customer service so more people want to use the system. One dramatic indicator of the new approach: MARTA is hiring bus drivers, as opposed to slashing payroll expenses.

As for media reports about expanding service in the Ga. 400 corridor, Parker said the route will go into the pot for consideration with two other routes that have long been considered: I-20 east and the Clifton corridor.

“For whatever reason, 400 caught the attention of the media; but as I stressed to them, 400 is not a favorite,” Parker said during a presentation to Georgia Stand-Up.

Parker compared the three routes to children: “Each has challenges and all three are very expensive.”

Parker said the I-20 route will be put on the market to determine if the private sector has any interest in helping to build the route, Parker said. Though Parker didn’t say when it will happen, he said MARTA intends to issue a request for qualifications for service east of Atlanta along I-20.

As Parker talks up MARTA’s efforts to meet its challenges, the state Legislature continues to contemplate a sweeping reorganization of MARTA. Parker noted that the state can take over MARTA if its reserve fund falls to a certain level. That level will be reached under MARTA’s current budget trajectory, Parker said.

Parker fielded more than 25 questions from an audience of perhaps 100 at the monthly meeting of Stand-Up. The organization promotes equitable development in projects including the future Falcons stadium and redevelopment of Fort McPherson.

Highlights on Parker’s remarks include, in no particular order:

  • Station upgrades related to the new Falcons stadium – MARTA will upgrade if the stadium is built on the south site in order to attract fans headed to the stadium;
  • Public safety – The perception and reality of passenger security on the system is of paramount importance and MARTA expects to have security cameras on every bus and train car by January, in addition to cell phone apps to report problems;
  • Fare increases – Two increases totaling 35 cents over the next two years were replaced by a plan to raise each fare by a dime every two years;
  • Atlanta Streetcar – Atlanta likely will take over management of the system, after MARTA provides technical advice to build the system and get it operational;
  • Gulch redevelopment – MARTA has no direct role in the planned $1 billion redevelopment around the Five Points station;
  • Street vendors around stations – They are outside MARTA’s control because they work on public streets, which are beyond MARTA’s jurisdiction;
  • Concessions inside MARTA stations – To improve customer’s experience and make money, MARTA intends to lease space to fast food restaurants such as McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts.

In regards to expansion plans, both the I-20 and Clifton corridor have already been studied extensively.

Both were on the list for funding if voters had approved the proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation that was on the ballot in July 2012. No source of money – either locally or from the federal government – has been identified to build any new rail service.

The Ga. 400 proposal has been discussed since before the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. The plan now being advanced would examine the potential for using heavy rail, light rail, or bus rapid transit to extend dedicated service from just north of I-285 to almost the border of Fulton and Forsyth counties. Specifically, the plan would link the North Springs station with a new one at Windward Parkway.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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