Privatization not new for MARTA; but agency must tackle pension reform

By Saba Long

Just a month before the release of its KPMG audit, the MARTA board and chief executive officer submitted their annual report to state Rep. Mike Jacobs, chairman of MARTOC — the legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee.

The 215-page report gives an overview of operating and capital consolidated financial statements, procurement contracts and salaries of all full-time employees.

The total operating revenues totaled $406 million with $130.5 million coming from passenger revenue and $196.3 million from the penny sales tax paid by Fulton and DeKalb counties. Operating expenses came out to $405.8 million with salaries and benefits accounting for over $340 million.

The KPMG audit and the subsequent dialogue and op-eds from MARTA critics and proponents alike call for increased privatization of either the entire system or particular aspects of business.

However, the MARTOC report lists numerous procurement contracts ranging from the creation of its recent “See Something, Say Something” campaign — which was awarded to Atlanta firms Bigelow Advertising and Jones Worley — to upgrades to the Train Alert Light System and Track Circuits — a $12.2 million cost.

The agency also outsources its facility-wide janitorial needs, financial audits, a significant portion of its transit system planning and its customer satisfaction program.

The report shows 14 employees in the fare collection department with the implementation and maintenance managed by a private firm servicing transit systems across the globe. Security guards for revenue collection, elevator and escalator maintenance and landscape maintenance are all outsourced.

The MARTOC report shows the level of transparency the system is required to practice — far more than the Georgia General Assembly or any other government agency in the state. The final 122 pages of the report lists the salary for every full-time employee including overtime pay; other parts of the report include details on board member reimbursements.

A 2006 court decision allowed the transit authority to enact a number of employee related cost-saving measures including using more part-time bus drivers to reduce the amount of overtime pay for full-time drivers, doubling down on its paid time off policy and subcontracting rail car maintenance.

The base salary for a MARTA bus driver is $40,063.20, hardly a number for the public to be up in arms about. However, there were a handful of bus operators receiving overtime pay between 15-40 percent of their base salary. Despite these outliers, the agency’s labor costs as a percent percentage of total personnel costs are approximately 3.5 percent lower than peer agencies, according to the audit.

Where the agency will reap the most long-term benefit and respect from those at the Gold Dome, is tackling pension reform. MARTA’s new general manager and existing board members must show leadership by making tough calls in order to gain a modicum of legitimacy in the public eye.

Note to readers: SaportaReport has received a $10,000 check from MARTA for a year-long Thought Leadership position on transit. Stay tuned for the launch of that page.

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