By Guest Columnist JANICE L. MATHIS, vice president of legal affairs for the Rainbow Push Coalition in Atlanta

Sometimes, it’s more important for a MARTA driver to give late riders a chance to board than it is to speed off to stay on schedule. That’s what MARTA needs to do now. Instead of rushing to select a new CEO, board chairman Frederick Daniels needs to slow down to give a larger group of qualified candidates the opportunity to get on board.

MARTA spent very little time trying to attract top notch executives to manage the ninth largest transit authority in the country. Instead, the board quickly assembled a short list of candidates and ran with it.

Now the board is ready to vote on two people who have impressive credentials, but they currently lead transit systems less than half the size of MARTA, with half as many daily riders, employees, and smaller budgets.

Janice Mathis

Neither Steve Bland, CEO of the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, nor Keith Parker from VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, has any heavy rail experience. So why are they the only candidates who made the cut? Because the Daniels led board is moving too fast, putting MARTA riders, services and the 41-year-old agency at risk.

To say the next MARTA CEO has a tough job ahead would be putting it mildly.

The haste to make a final selection is driven by valid considerations. The State of Georgia is poised to privatize MARTA just as soon as the General Assembly comes to town in January, and MARTA workers will negotiate a new contract next summer. But haste often leads to wasted opportunity.

A recent KPMG audit predicts the authority will have a $114 million financial shortfall by 2016, that’s expected to grow to $248 million by 2021. The authority also needs roughly $7 billion in capital improvements within the next nine years. We need to try innovative funding solutions – Sacramento devotes a portion of its gasoline tax to transit, on the theory that transit lengthens the life of highways by taking cars off the road.

MARTA is the only transit system of its size in the U.S. that does not receive any state funding, yet the state has oversight. MARTA is funded by sales tax dollars from Fulton and DeKalb counties and rider fares. Pitiful as that may be, state law prevents MARTA from having full control over its revenues.

The Atlanta region consistently has had one of the highest unemployment rates during the recession. However, as former President Bill Clinton said at the Democratic National Convention, there are 3 million jobs in America that are unfilled largely because workers don’t have adequate transportation to get to them.

The next MARTA CEO must have the vision and leadership to find solutions to those problems and work with surrounding counties on a regional transportation plan. Without one, metro Atlantans will continue to be addicted to asphalt and our economy, quality of life and environment will continue to suffer. He or she will also have to convince metro Atlantans that a strong, comprehensive transit strategy is in the region’s best economic interest.

I refuse to believe the CEO search has progressed too far to reopen it to additional candidates. Daniels and the rest of the board can look to Jacksonville as an example.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority board had the guts to shave its short list and ask the search firm it hired to reach out to candidates who had not applied for the job, but who had previously been CEOs at transit agencies of comparable size or larger, to determine if they might be valid finalists as well. Those finalists will be interviewed during a public meeting, not behind closed doors like MARTA has done.

This position is too critical to MARTA’s future to rush to judgment. MARTA must be more diligent in its search to find the best of the best, an executive who is willing to invest the professional capital necessary to make MARTA a sustainable, regional, 21st Century transit authority.

The board should allow as much public input as possible, to help build community consensus and foster trust in the new leader. Without that, Georgia will be on a collision course down the road.

Join the Conversation


  1. The way MARTA is shrinking, experience with smaller systems may be more valuable than experience with larger systems. Why do you think heavy rail experience is necessary? MBTA has electric buses, but Beverly Scott doesn’t have electric bus experience.
    Or could it the real problem be only two of the four MARTA candidates and only one of the finalists passes the Rainbow Push Coalition’s affirmative action test?

    1.  @Burroughston Broch
       Why must everything ALWAYS have racial implications? This response is nothing less than the typical race baiting garbage seen on the AJC and City-Data blogs. Please take this garbage elsewhere.

      1.  @atlantaguy  
        It may have racial implications since that is the Rainbow Push Coalition’s business model. If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every task becomes a nail.
        Racial implications certainly were part of the decision in naming Beverly Scott as head of the MBTA, since the Governor said that there were diversity and gender considerations. And she is taking that job at half what she was paid by MARTA.
        Are you just ignoring my other questions?

  2. Janice,
    Thanks so much for the wonderful post. I went onto to get a feel for the local opinion of Steve Bland in Pittsburgh. I didn’t approach the San Antonio folks since they don’t even have rail. Here is the response from that forum so far:
    #1909   Posted: Today, 12:02 AM atlantaguy Registered User Join Date: Feb 2002 Location: Atlanta Posts: 1,605 
    Secondly, we have just lost our fantastic CEO of MARTA, Beverly Scott – who has been recruited to run the MBTA in Boston. The ONLY finalists for her replacement are Steve Bland of your PAT, and Keith Parker of San Antonio’s VIA. Neither of these agencies are even half the size of MARTA, the nations ninth largest agency. My question is, is this guy qualified to run such a large agency that includes a 48 mile heavy rail system? I know he is probably used to a hostile State government, but do you get ANY State funding at all, or is the situation as ugly as it is here in GA? I am aware that you escaped the draconian service cuts that were supposed to take place last month, but I am totally ignorant of the details. I just worry that this guy isn’t qualified to even be nominated. Any and all comments and opinions are more than welcome, and thanks in advance guys!    
     #1910   Posted: Today, 12:50 AM markson33 Registered User Join Date: May 2011 Location: Pittsburgh Posts: 126
    I think its almost impossible to tell what Steve Bland is qualified for. The agency has been cutting for a long time and fighting union issues at the same time. Who knows what he would do if he actually had the opportunity to run a transit agency. He has been put in an impossible situation. None of which is to suggest that he is qualified. Personally I would like to see them blow the whole transit agency up and start over. markson33
    #1911   Posted: Today, 1:35 AM Jonboy1983 Registered User Join Date: Apr 2010 Location: Downingtown, PA (Greater Philly) Posts: 690
    Let’s see, Bland takes a transit agency that was among the largest in the country by per capita albeit severely lacking in both area and variety of modes offered and puts it through the shredder without coming up with neither any creative ideas to expand the system, nor to come up with outside-the-box new funding ideas. So with that, HELL NO! Having said that, let Bland go. Atlanta and Jacksonville aren’t far south enough. How much further is Hell? What we could use in return is an outside-the-box thinker; someone who has multi-modal planning experience and creative finance experience. Pittsburgh cannot rely solely on buses and a very limited LRT system. Sure, they extended it a mile under the river to the North Side, but it’s still very lacking. We need an extension to the Airport, and a highly-recommended heavy rail line if not a light-rail extension to Oakland. BRT may work for now, but I don’t see that as adequately serving the Downtown-Oakland traffic. It’s a very heavily traveled corridor. Pittsburgh needs to expand its transit network, NOT SHRINK IT! It’s too damned small as it is! Not to mention, why doesn’t Pittsburgh have a more regional transit system? Look at other metro transit authorities. Atlanta’s is regional and serves all the surrounding counties. As does Cleveland’s and Baltimore’s to name a couple more. I know Indianapolis and Cincinnati are severely lacking in a multi modal transit system, but Pittsburgh’s really isn’t much better if you ask me. They once had a regional trolley system that served the northern suburbs, but that was axed in the ’60s instead of upgraded to a better system. Yeah, those buses really did wonders for our system… Quote: Originally Posted by markson33 Personally I would like to see them blow the whole transit agency up and start over.Same here, personally. __________________ Transportation planning, building better communities of tomorrow through superior connections between them today… Last edited by Jonboy1983; Today at 1:37 AM. Reason: added commentary   

  3. Thanks Attorney Mathis for a thoughtful post. I can imagine the board’s anxiety with the top two MARTA officials and perhaps other executives leaving in a few weeks. It does take courage to step back from a decision to regroup or reconsider but  Mathis  has made a compelling case. Shirley

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