Type to search

Maria's Metro

MARTA and MARTOC — relationship may be thawing, but gulf remains

By Maria Saporta

Call it a honeymoon.

From the looks and sounds of it, we’re witnessing a honeymoon between MARTA and the legislative oversight committee — MARTOC.

The reason for this thawed relationship is Keith Parker, MARTA’s new general manager. During his first month at the helm, Parker is making many of the right moves. He has spent time with State Rep. Michael Jacobs, MARTOC’s chair, as well as other legislators on the committee.

While a closer relationship between MARTA and MARTOC is welcome, veteran observers of the state’s relationship with the Southeast’s largest transit system have reason for skepticism.

At the MARTOC committee meeting on Dec. 20 — the first one that Parker has attended, sometimes it sounded as though there were two separate conversations taking place.

For starters, there were the platitudes.

“The makings of a good working relationship are there,” Jacobs said.

“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to be with you this morning and to take the helm of MARTA at a most important time in its history,” Parker said.

But Jacobs then set the stage — laying out his agenda.

He let it be known that he expected that there would be some legislation impacting MARTA during the upcoming General Assembly.

The legislation would likely include a “three-year relaxation” of the requirement that MARTA has to spend half of its sales tax revenues on capital improvements and half on operating expenses.

The legislation also likely would revisit the make-up of the MARTA board. “They will be along the same lines of what was presented in the last session with staggered terms,” Jacobs said.

And Jacobs was insistent that MARTA must privatize part of its operations — following through on recommendations that were part of the KPMG audit that had been commissioned by the MARTA board to seek ways to improve the transit system’s operations.

Let’s dissect those three agenda items one at a time.

First of all, MARTA would like to have the requirement of the 50/50 split to be permanently removed. No other major transit system in the country has to operate with such a restriction, and MARTA would like the flexibility of being able to spend its own funds on where there is the greatest need.

The only explanation of why the state, which does not provide any regular operating funds for MARTA, would want to keep the 50/50 split is control. It is one lever that the state legislature can hold over MARTA to get an upper hand.

Next point — reconstituting the MARTA board. Currently, DeKalb County selects four people to serve on the MARTA board, Fulton County and the City of Atlanta each appoint three people to serve on the board.

During the last session, a proposal was made for the cities in North Fulton to appoint two of the county’s three representatives. Again, this appears to be another attempt to take away powers from Fulton County while giving greater powers to the new cities on the northern third of county.

But Fulton officials have objected to such a change, arguing that the three governmental entities that support MARTA are Fulton, DeKalb and the City of Atlanta, and they should retain the power to appoint MARTA board members.

One area of apparent agreement, however, would be to stagger the terms of the board members to “provide stability and continuity of institutional knowledge and a longer-term perspective,” according to MARTA’s 2013 proposed legislative guidelines.

Lastly, on the issue of privatization, there is some divergence of opinion.

Fred Daniels, chairman of MARTA’s board, said the KPMG audit identified 12 out of 61 functional areas that could possibly be privatized.

Parker said that MARTA has now asked KPMG to put together an “implementation” plan on the various recommendations, and a “road map” on how to proceed could be presented to the MARTA board in mid-January.

In listening closely to all sides, it is clear that there are two different ways of looking at privatization — privatization for the sake of privatization, or privatization as a way to improve MARTA’s operations.

There’s a long list of failed privatization efforts — from the City of Atlanta’s unsuccessful privatization of its water operations to its controversial Park Atlanta contract.

Parker, however, provided another option — something that he had done in Charlotte and in San Antonio. That option is “managed competition.”

A transit agency allows its “in house” employees to compete on potential privatization project with private companies. If the “in house” employees provide a more competitive bid, then they will win the contract.

All in all, there are encouraging signs that Parker and MARTA could make some constructive inroads with the state during this honeymoon period.

But it’s important to remember that the state has not been a consistent financial backer of MARTA since its inception in 1971. Forty years of history is hard to overcome.

Note to readers: In the interest of full disclosure, MARTA has purchased one of the SaportaReport Thought Leadership positions. The weekly transit feature is expected to be launched in January.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. Martawatcher December 31, 2012 12:48 am

    Privatization is Mike Jacobs and the Assembly’s way of creating a similar corrupt entity like the State Dot. MARTA may be a lot of things,but corruption is not rampant like many other areas of state govt.The State’s powers that be have been wanting to get their hands on federal taxpayer money earmarked for MARTA for decades.Once that occurs,MARTA will become corrupt and the media will tell you how much MARTA has improved,just like the state dot.Report

    1. Burroughston Broch December 31, 2012 7:28 am

      @Martawatcher MARTA not corrupt? What’s your definition of rampant corruption?Report

      1. Marta25 December 31, 2012 2:47 pm

        I can’t speak for MARTAWatcher-I’ll go out on a limb and say MARTA is not corrupt if you looking at contracts worth millions given to friends and cronies ala Atlanta airport. MARTA’s contract and procurement system is pretty rigid with federal guidlines.MARTA is not a perfect organization,there is room for improvement due to mismanagement,ignorance and other factors. But wholesale corruption probably isn’t one of them. In all the audits that have been done by the state,Feds and outside 3rd parties in the past 10 years,none have found a pattern of corruption as it applies to Federal dollars being misused. Another piece of this to me is bad management skills are not interchangeable with corruption, If you not a good leader,it doesn’t mean you’re corrupt-it means you can’t lead.Report

        1. Burroughston Broch January 1, 2013 11:19 am

          @Marta25 You’re way out on a very slender limb. Portraying MARTA as not corrupt because it’s not as corrupt as the Airport is like portraying a rape as not a crime when compared to gang rape. It’s still a felony.Report

        2. ScottNAtlanta January 1, 2013 12:04 pm

          @Burroughston Broch  @Marta25 
          Can you please give us some examples of the rampant corruption?  It should be quite easy if its that bad.Report

        3. Burroughston Broch January 1, 2013 1:19 pm

          Look at the KPMG report. Look at the flawed selection process for the new GM. Look at the overtime pay being languished on a chosen few (remember when MARTA published employee compensation and bud drivers made more than a physician?). Remember MARTA dunning 40-50 companies $5000-$10000 each to pay for their 2010 Christmas Party?
          That should do for a starter.Report

        4. Marta25 January 1, 2013 3:26 pm

          @Burroughston Broch  @ScottNAtlanta
           I don’t agree. The KPMG report did NOT identify corruption as the reason behind MARTA’s deficit.MARTA,like many other companies public and private,is running a business model from 30 years ago.The past 5 years has shown that lots of companies big and small have had to make hard decisions to adjust to the current business climate.It’s MARTA’s turn for that process.
          The GM selection was flawed depending on whose side you were on. If the State’s GOP pick-Dwight Ferrrel would have gotten the job,the process would have been touted as fair.The board corrected it’s prior mistake with Scott and selected the best person to move MARTA forward without state interference.If the State had been allowed to impose it’s person on MARTA,the state’s agenda and not the contributing counties would have been rammed through. A question that I have been pondering in this whole debate is why is the state so gungho for privatization? Why isn’t the question-how can MARTA balance it’s books period? Also KPMG is not a neutral bystander-they are one of the biggest outsourcing consulting companies in the US.Outsourcing has had successes,but also some dramatic failures as evidenced by MARTA having jump in and pick up the pieces when the vender abandoned the contract to run Clayton Counties buses and when a few years ago Ryder dumped the Peachtree trolley buses back on MARTA becauses they didn’t want to spend the money to properly maintain them.The pattern has always been lowbid to get in and hold them hostage for more money.
          Bus Driver’s salaries-this is no different than other transit agencies.Drivers with high seniority are asked to do overtime first due to the union contract.They have the right of first refusal and they tend to work rather than pass.The main reason is that they are close to retirement and the extra salary from extra work helps their final retirement numbers.This is not a MARTA only phenomenon-this happens all across the US. This will only be removed by contract  negotiation.
          Your last item on MARTA soliciting funds for the employee christmans party is a touchy one. I am not privy to the mindset that made that decision,but looking at it in hindsight,I understand what they were trying to do.If MARTA used Federal and Local taxpayer funds to have a party for it’s employees,that would be misuse of funds and potential corruption.So soliciting companies you do business with to pay for (sponsor)a party with their logo’s all around might be a little less risky. In my opinion,
          not so much.Whether or not stings were attached,the appearance leaves much to be desired. I would have to agree that it does look shady.Report

  2. hgrady January 4, 2013 10:50 am

    Your characterization of the state’s relationship with Marta is self-serving and manipulative. I used to read your articles with pleasure because my belief was that you cared more about effective transit over the same old us vs. them politics that are so hard to break in this state. However, just looking at your hyperbolic proselytizing throughout this article, I believe you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
    “The only explanation of why the state, which does not provide any regular operating funds for MARTA, would want to keep the 50/50 split is control.”- Really?  That’s the ONLY explanation? Well, of course it isn’t.  But why let reason or respect for opposing viewpoints get in the way of your own hyperbolic political banter.
    “In listening closely to all sides, it is clear that there are two different ways of looking at privatization — privatization for the sake of privatization, or privatization as a way to improve MARTA’s operations.”- Huh?  Privatization for the sake of privatization?  What in the world does that even mean?  Give me a quote where you have heard one of the sides say that…I mean, since you are listening closely, right?
    “But it’s important to remember that the state has not been a consistent financial backer of MARTA since its inception in 1971.” That is just a pure falsehood.  The state has consistently been a financial backer of Marta.  From the initial grants made by the state DOT to the annual $2M to $5M in state funds that go to Marta.  I’m not a writer or an english major, but providing an annual allotment of roughly the same amount EVERY YEAR seems like the very definition of consistent. 
    Now…what you certainly mean is that the state doesn’t give enough money.  And that’s your opinion and it’s actually an opinion I agree with.  But you do a dis-service to the discussion of transit in this city by engaging in hyperbole and falsehoods in order to support a pro-transit/anti-state stance.  I applauded your effort to call out the AJC when it panders to the suburbs on issues of transit and the street car.  However, the turn you have made over the past 3 months on attacking Martoc is not a good one.Report


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.