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MARTA elects new board chair in a spirited debate

Longtime MARTA board member Robbie Ashe resigned on Dec. 8. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

By Maria Saporta

At its Thursday meeting, the MARTA board elected a new chair, accepted the resignation of two board members, disclosed that the Atlanta Streetcar has been taken out of service for safety reasons and unanimously approved bus rapid transit as its preferred mode of service to Clayton County.

In a divided 8-to-4 vote, the MARTA board selected Thomas Worthy as its chair beginning in January. This is the first time a MARTA board chair has been elected outside of one of the jurisdictions (City of Atlanta, Fulton County, DeKalb County and Clayton County) that pay sales taxes to support the transit system, and Worthy was appointed to board by the governor.

Thomas Worthy

In the past, the board chair has rotated among the jurisdictions. Clayton was supposed to be next in the rotation, but there was an agreement that the Clayton representative needed more time on the board. After Clayton’s turn, the rotation would have gone to Atlanta, then Fulton and then back to DeKalb.

So, in a break from tradition, the nominating committee presented Worthy as its choice for chair.

But DeKalb board member, Roderick Frierson, nominated current MARTA board chair, Rita Scott, who also represents DeKalb County.

“I accept the nomination mostly… for continuity and so we continue on the road we are on,” said Scott, who added she had reached out to all of the jurisdictions.

Worthy then chimed.

“I also humbly accept the nomination. I think we are moving in the right direction as an authority,” Worthy said. “I believe strongly in the fairness to have rotating chairs.”

Rita Scott.

He then pledged to only serve one year instead of the usual two years, and turn over the chairmanship to Katie Powers, a Clayton County representative who was elected vice chair.

After several board members praised Scott’s leadership, they voted 8-to-4 in favor of Worthy, who has served on the MARTA board since January 2017. In his day job, Worthy is vice president of government and external affairs at Piedmont Healthcare, where he has been since 2016. He also worked for the State Bar of Georgia.

Before that Worthy served Gov. Nathan Deal as his deputy executive counsel from July 2012 to February 2014.

Interestingly enough, the MARTA Act was amended giving the governor a voting representative on the MARTA board.

Bill Floyd, former mayor of the City of Decatur, spoke in favor of Worthy saying “we put a little too much into this jurisdiction thing.” He made the argument that anyone serving on the MARTA board was there to support the transit agency and not just represent their government.

Former MARTA Board chair Freda Hardage agreed with Floyd, adding that since 2015 the State of Georgia has allocated $149.8 million to MARTA. She added it’s important for MARTA to work closely with the state.

Surprises continued at the board meeting.

Reginald Snyder.

Robbie Ashe, an attorney who has represented Atlanta on the MARTA board since 2010, announced in an emotional speech that he was resigning from the board. Ashe served as chair of MARTA’s board from 2014 through 2018.

Ashe recounted that when he joined the board, “MARTA was on an unsustainable path of annual deficit spending, burning through our reserves, and headed for insolvency.” He credited former MARTA general managers Beverly Scott and Keith Parker for working with the board “to get the train back on track” and become more disciplined financially.

“Instead of statutory insolvency in 2014 and full bankruptcy in 2016, which is where we were headed, thanks to a lot of hard work, we had an unprecedented string of budget surpluses, and rebuilt our cash reserves, and have restructured our debt and lowered our borrowing costs, saving hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to our great financial team,” Ashe said.

Getting Clayton to join the system and Atlanta passing the More MARTA plan were two other successes Ashe mentioned.

“But in all things, there comes a time to close the chapter,” Ashe said. “So, with a heavy heart, but also real joy at all we’ve done together, today I am resigning so that MARTA can get a new, fresh set of arms and eyes to keep pushing forward because our work is not yet done.”

After the meeting, Ashe said his wife had come to refer to MARTA as their fourth child, “and it’s not always with a sense of humor.” He then added: “It’s time for new blood.”

Roberta ABdul Salaam.

After Ashe’s announcement, Reginald Snyder, also a City of Atlanta representative, announced he was resigning from the board. Synder then said he was happy Collie Greenwood had been named MARTA’s permanent general manager and that he would be “leading the charge.”

A third board member also is leaving MARTA – Roberta Abdul-Salaam of Clayton County, who has been serving as vice chair.

The other big news to come out of Thursday’s meeting was the fact that the Atlanta Streetcar is no longer running for safety reasons having to do with rail wheels being out of balance. The wheels and their bases — also called the truck under the streetcar — of the four streetcars are being shipped to California to be repaired. The four streetcars were taken out of service on Nov. 29.

In the meantime, MARTA is providing shuttles along the Atlanta Streetcar route.

“We are hopeful we can be back in service by the end of the first quarter in 2023,” said George Wright, MARTA’s chief operating officer. He also said MARTA has the funding to acquire two new streetcars, which could end up improving the frequency of service.

Bus shuttles will replace the Atlanta Streetcar while cars are getting repaired. (Special: MARTA.)

Those two new cars will serve the existing Atlanta Streetcar network. It is anticipated more cars would need to be acquired to extend the streetcar to the Atlanta BeltLine on the east. MARTA also has completed more than 30 percent engineering to build a streetcar line along the BeltLine from Irwin Street to North Avenue.

Before the streetcars were taken out of service, about 3,500 riders used the system each week. In the first week that the streetcars were replaced by shuttles, ridership had dropped to 600 people per week. Wright said he is hopeful ridership will return as patrons become more familiar with the shuttle buses.

Lastly, the MARTA board unanimously approved bus rapid transit (BRT) as the locally preferred alternative to Clayton County. There was no discussion during the board meeting. But at its November board meeting, several Clayton representatives – including Chairman Jeff Turner – spoke out in support of BRT as the preferred option.

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.


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  1. lolbeans December 12, 2022 10:38 pm

    I think there must have been some actual accident for the Atlanta Streetcar to be in this state.Report

  2. Noel in Atlanta December 20, 2022 8:46 am

    Thank you for all this intel!Report

  3. fnf March 14, 2023 3:48 pm

    I think Thomas Worthy was a good choice!Report


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