By Maria Saporta
MARTA was one of three transit agencies built at the same time — BART in San Francisco and METRO in Washington, D.C.
Both BART and METRO today have about 100 miles of rail, but MARTA only has 48 miles — giving fuel to the argument that it is a skeletal system.
But if its up to MARTA General Manager Keith Parker the transit agency will re-enter into an expansion mode as soon as fiscally possible.
“MARTA has only reached half of its potential,” Parker told members of the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Monday. “We are a transit system we feel is poised to do much more, to be like Washington and San Francisco, which are 100-mile transit authorities.”
Parker said MARTA already has planned out its next expansion routes — going north along Georgia 400 towards Alpharetta, going along the I-20 east corridor and building a rail line to serve the Clifton Road corridor.
“My pledge to you, we will work the investment and make you feel proud of your transit system,” Parker said. “With funding, we are ready to jump right on it.”
After his talk, Parker was asked whether he had a strategy on how best to get funding to expand the rail transit system — from the state, another regional transportation tax vote, federal funding or a combination of all of the above.
He said there was no plan at this time, but that MARTA would want to work with all possible partners to try to expand transit in the region.
“We need to be a more robust system,” Parker said. “MARTA needs to be able to go to more places.”
Historically MARTA has found resistance in counties outside its core service are of the City of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties.
“Old attitudes may be changing,” Parker said, adding that Atlanta continues to attract people relocating from the Northeast where they are more familiar with transit. “The number of people relocating to Atlanta will join progressive natives and people’s minds towards transit will change.”
Already millennials tend to favor transit, walking and cycling rather than driving and owning cars, Parker added.
During his Rotary talk, Parker described the dramatic turn-around that has occurred at MARTA since he arrived in December 2012. At the time, the agency was losing about $33 million a year, and it faced the possibility of depleting its reserves within four years.
Through belt-tightening, Parker said that MARTA has been able to reverse its deficit situation and is now experiencing a $9 million surplus this year. Meanwhile, he said the agency is focused on its employees, its patrons and its customer experience as well as being financially sound.
When asked about his biggest surprises — both good and bad — since coming to Atlanta, Parker said that he didn’t realize how bad the finances at MARTA actually were.
He said that when he came to Atlanta, people warned him about what a difficult time he would have with state leaders and the state legislature. A pleasant surprise has been the cordial relationships Parker has had with Gov. Nathan Deal and other state leaders.
“We’ve seen great support,” Parker said. “Of course, we haven’t asked for anything. We’ve said: ‘Let us get our own house in order.’ Phase 2 is still to come.”