Bolstered by Federal Cares Act Funding, $1.2 Billion Budget Advances Capital Expansion Program and Customer-Focused Projects
The MARTA Board of Directors has adopted the Authority’s fiscal year 2021 Operating and Capital Budget. The nearly $1.2 billion budget includes $557.9 million in operating funds and $599 million for capital programming.
Recognizing that transit will be an integral part of the post-pandemic economic recovery of this country, Congress provided a lifeline in May by including $25 billion in the CARES Act for transit, $298.6 million of which will flow to MARTA. MARTA used $83 million to shore up COVID-related losses in 2020, has earmarked $150 million of those funds for fiscal 2021, and held $65.6 million for fiscal 2022. Any surpluses will be placed in a sales tax reserve, which is expected to reach $272.5 million at the end of fiscal 2021. These reserves will help offset potential deficits through 2025, giving the economy and ridership time to recover.
“This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for transit. We’ve provided safe, essential service while experiencing unprecedented revenue losses,” said MARTA General Manager & CEO Jeffrey Parker. “This budget delivers on the promises in the 15th Amendment and reflects MARTA’s commitment to state of good repair and expansion while being mindful of future financial impacts of COVID-19.”
Notably, MARTA avoids laying off any employees and will not increase fares in fiscal 2021. MARTA’s almost 3,000 represented employees will receive 3 percent raises as negotiated. Also, in the budget, a $20 million contingency fund to pay for any COVID-related expenses over the next year such as more personal protection equipment and emergency sick leave. As measures of fiscal prudence, MARTA has suspended merit increases for non-represented employees, eliminated vacant positions, and re-doubled efforts to reduce overtime.
“MARTA acted quickly to tighten its belt when the pandemic hit, allowing us to remain fully staffed and operational,” said MARTA Board of Directors Chair Freda Hardage. “Years of sound fiscal decisions, combined with a strong three quarters of fiscal 2019 have allowed us to not only weather this fourth quarter but to make good on our promise to taxpayers eager for current system upgrades and expansion of service and amenities. I am proud to serve with board members who made themselves available to work through this challenging time.”
The MARTA 2040 (previously More MARTA) expansion program will continue to advance. The Authority will invest $20 million in new natural gas-powered and electric buses, new bus transit centers and bus shelters in DeKalb and Clayton Counties and upgraded GPS and computer-aided bus dispatch equipment. MARTA is using the lessons learned from reducing bus routes during the pandemic to evaluate the overall bus network and look for ways to optimize service.
MARTA is finalizing the service plan for bus rapid transit (BRT) on North Avenue, will enter the environmental assessment phase for high-capacity transit in Clayton County, and complete early design work on Summerhill BRT. MARTA will also conduct alignment work on the Campbellton Corridor and Streetcar East Extension projects, along with starting the procurement process for a formal design team to oversee the transformation of Five Points station.
MARTA’s state of good repair capital budget includes over $200 million for improvement projects on the rail system. Sixty-two million will be spent on a systemwide Station Rehabilitation Program that ranges from transformative construction work to restorative touches such as paint, tile, and lighting. The fourth iteration of the Track Renovation Program (TR-IV) in which large sections of aging tracks and track equipment are repaired and replaced is underway. Other rail system projects include a systemwide Elevator and Escalator Rehabilitation Program, tunnel ventilation, Train Control System upgrade, and the first installment of new rail cars.
MARTA will continue to prioritize improving the customer experience as ridership begins to recover after pandemic-related declines of up to 80 percent on rail and 50 percent on bus. This month marked the first meeting of MARTA’s inaugural Riders’ Advisory Council, a 26-member volunteer group that will offer feedback on improving the overall transit experience. Led by MARTA’s first-ever Chief Customer Experience Officer, the council will provide their viewpoints on potential customer impacts of budgeted projects such as rail station enhancements, design of new railcars, and the rollout of digital signage
Other customer-focused initiatives will be introduced, such as Uber vouchers for patrons during planned and unplanned service disruptions. Technology upgrades that will make it easier to use the system, including mobile fare payment and the new audio/video announcement system will be launched. MARTA will also build on its Homeless Outreach Initiative with the creation of dedicated outreach teams comprised of MARTA employees and social service workers to respectfully engage unsheltered individuals on the system and connect them with resources.