MARTA GM Keith Parker talks up privatization, strategic vision in speech to DeKalb chamber
By David Pendered
MARTA GM Keith Parker said Wednesday he intends to pursue a consultant’s recommendations that MARTA privatize some services in order to fix the battered budget.
“If we make these adjustments, we will, by 2018 again be contributing to our fiscal reserves rather than bleeding them,” Parker told the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce during his talk at the “Executive Speaker Series,” formerly known as the “First Monday Lunch Series.”
Privatization will fly in the face of Parker’s plans to boost morale among MARTA’s 4,500 workers. Privatization also will present opportunities for local businesses to take over various services that are outsourced, he said – almost in passing.
The example Parker gave of the challenge of privatizing some services was of para-transit operators.
Parker had met Wednesday morning with more than 100 of them, he said. Everyone in the meeting knew the report from the KPMG consulting firms recommends the para-transit service be off-loaded to a private company.
Parker indicated his efforts to bolster employee morale, to make each worker an ambassador for MARTA, is a tough sell when talk of privatization is in the air.
“At the end of the day, they’re still thinking: ‘My job will be gone in a year, a year and a half,’” Parker said.
“That’s not an easy part of the job,” he said. “We want to handle it as humanely as possible. If, in fact, we do outsource a number of these things, we want to make sure to set up contracts to take care of employees the best we can. And customers.”
Federal law also will guide the process of privatization, if MARTA goes down that road. Parker did not cite these provisions, but others have noted that any effort to outsource work will have to comply with labor laws and other oversights.
Federal law has a number of requirements that affect privatization:
- Current employees have the first shot at jobs moved to a private company;
- Existing rights and benefits of union jobs continue into jobs created by any private companies hired by MARTA;
- The only way MARTA can break its relation with Amalgamated Transit Union, Local No. 732, is to stop accepting federal funds.
Parker’s main purpose Wednesday was to introduce himself to the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. At the conclusion of his remarks, Parker received another round of applause and good wishes from local leaders. The group met at Holiday Inn Atlanta, on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road.
Parker was the first speaker of the new year at the chamber’s “Executive Speaker Series.” The GM tuned his remarks to the business audience – asking for support, outlining opportunites for MARTA, and sketching an outline of success.
“MARTA faces the same thing as all other businesses face,” Parker said. “Like football, you have to know how to block and tackle, and do your push-ups and sit-ups.”
Parker named four basic components of success that he thinks will result noticeable improvements for MARTA’s passengers.
“You can’t be successful if don’t have following elements,” Parker said:
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.”