First MARTA budget proposed by “new” GM provides for passengers, employees, capital investments

By David Pendered

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the vote Monday by MARTA’s board of directors to approve the proposed budget.

The first annual budget to be presented by MARTA’s (somewhat) new GM/CEO provides something for both employees and passengers. MARTA’s board of directors approved the proposed budget Monday.

MARTA GM/CEO Keith Parker, who testified at the state Capitol this year, hopes the budget the MARTA board is to adopt Monday will satisfy the state Legislature that MARTA intends to properly manage its resources. File/Credit: State of Georgia

MARTA GM/CEO Keith Parker, who testified at the state Capitol this year, hopes the budget the MARTA board is to adopt Monday will satisfy the state Legislature that MARTA intends to properly manage its resources. File/Credit: State of Georgia

Keith Parker started at MARTA in December and made it clear during several meet-and-greet events that he intends to focus on both riders and employees. His goal is to improve the perception and reality of metro Atlanta’s largest transit system.

For passengers, MARTA’s budget provides for a 12-month deferral of a planned fare increase, heightens sense-of-safety measures, and provides for the reopening of bathrooms in stations. For employees, there’s a no-cost package including a relaxed dress code and telecommute program, plus pay incentives. For system well-being, there’s $155.5 million in capital investments.

Here are some highlights from the budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1:

Customers:

  • No fare increase in FY 2014. The fare hike schedule now calls for a 15 cent increase in FY 2015, followed by a 10 cent fare hike in FY 2016 and again in FY 2018;
  • Steady services levels;
  • Reopening restrooms in stations;
  • Starting a “Knuckle-head behavior campaign,” which will use additional video surveillance cameras to monitor for noxious behaviors and expel those riders;
  • Starting a “secret shoppers” program to monitor and improve customer relations.

Employees:

  • Incentive pay, providing a total of $8.3 million in December for employees who have worked eight years without a pay raise;
  • Promising a merit pay increase in July 2015, which is to be funded through the FY 2016 budget that takes effect July 1, 2015.
  • Relaxing the dress code to something called, “relaxed dress business appropriate;”
  • Implementing a telecommute program.

Capital improvements

  • A total of $155.5 million to include $44 million for new buses; $9.7 million for mobility vans; $22 million for the Brady mobility facility; and $7.3 million for security cameras in vehicles.

Fiscal Relief

  • Implement the recommendations of the KPMG management report, which calls for privatizing some services;
  • Addressing healthcare costs;
  • Addressing pension costs;
  • Raising fares a total of 35 cents per trip by July 1, 2017.

Parker’s budget appears to follow through on the themes he sounded when he was introducing himself to various stakeholder groups around metro Atlanta.

For example, at a luncheon event with the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce, Parker told a packed room that no organization, including MARTA, can succeed without four elements. This is the list Parker provided:

1)   “Employees coming to work everyday with their chest out…. We have to change perspectives in our own employees…. One of my fundamental challenges is getting people to be proud.

2)   “Make sure this [system] is sustainable.

3)   “Public perception…. If folks don’t see you as something that makes the quality of their life better, they won’t support you. We have to be a great part of Atlanta.

4)    Service levels. “The recession hit MARTA hard, just like it hit the rest of us…. MARTA probably cut too much. I don’t say that as a criticism, but it hurts MARTA’s ability to keep good customers on the system.”

Parker spoke positively about budget he’s proposing for the upcoming year. In a statement released in April, when the proposal was unveiled, Parker said:

“There is very good news in this budget. We are moving forward with initiatives that will put our financial house in order with no new sources of funding. At the same time, our goal is to make people feel safer when they’re riding MARTA and offer them great customer service from employees who are proud to work here.”

MARTA’s board of directors met Monday afternoon and approved the first budget recommended by Parker since he started at MARTA in December. MARTA’s board selected Parker in October, convincing him to depart the VIA transit system in San Antonio, where he served as president/CEO.

 

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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