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New MARTA CEO Keith Parker will be a daily rider and have an open door

By Maria Saporta

In a “welcome to Atlanta” press conference Friday morning, the new general manager and CEO of MARTA — Keith Parker — promised to run an open and transparent agency.

In that spirit, he promised that his new contract would be on MARTA’s website within hours available for public review. A copy was then handed out to reporters showing that he would be receiving a base annual salary of $320,000 during the five-year contract. He will join MARTA on Dec. 10.

Parker also showed he was well aware of the multitude of issues facing MARTA, including having a negative image and perception.

“I think changing the image of the transit system starts with me,” said Parker, who said he would be moving to a home next to a MARTA stop. “That’s going to be part of my daily plan — use my BreezeCard and ride it everyday.”

Keith Parker

In his opening remarks, Parker also demonstrated that he had read in full detail the findings of the KPMG audit that recommended several areas where MARTA could save money, including privatizing a number of functions.

During his transit career — both in Charlotte and San Antonio, Parker said he had tried all sorts of approaches to run a more efficient operation. In Charlotte, he tried the concept of “managed competition,” where the agency’s employees would compete against the private sector for the work.

“The public sector employees were so competitive that private companies quit competing,” Parker said. When he comes to Atlanta, Parker pledged to look into all the options for the best solutions.

Parker also seemed well aware of the many difficulties that MARTA is facing.

In the national transit sector, MARTA is viewed as “the most complex job in the transit industry, and I don’t disagree,” Parker said. “MARTA is more complex because of geopolitical realities in this region.”

As a way to help address those complexities, Parker said he would be meeting with employees, customers, state legislators, local elected officials, the unions and others to work through the various issues.

“Part of my history is being in the office a lot less than I’m out,” Parker said. “I plan to spend considerable time with people in the community.”

When asked about what were his biggest challenges, Parker said: “There are so many; there’s so much to do — getting our financial house in order, reassure the employees, reassure the customers. I’m also concerned about the unknown.”

Barbara Babbit Kaufman, a MARTA board member who chaired the search committee, was pleased with how the whole search ended up.

“It was probably the best search MARTA has ever had,” Kaufman said explaining about the thorough research and background checks that had been done during the national search. “Keith had the board eating out of the palm of his hand. If he had us eating out of the palm of his hand, we knew he would have the staff, the employees, the legislature, the mayor eating out of the palm of his hand. He has a real vision for MARTA.”

Long time board member Juanita Abernathy couldn’t have been happier. “I’m so happy,” she said. “We’ve got a good one.”

Amid the excitement, Parker and the board seemed well aware of the difficulties that the transit agency must overcome — an aging infrastructure, declining revenues, a negative image and little to no annual operating support from the state and from the region outside of the three jurisdictions that passed the MARTA Act in 1971 — the City of Atlanta, Fulton County and DeKalb County.

“We are excited,” said Fred Daniels, chairman of the MARTA board. “There are numerous challenges that stand before us, but we are poised to face them.”

Parker, who has been the general manager of the VIA transit system in San Antonio, Texas, said he was honored and humbled to have been selected as MARTA’s general manager.

“But I’m not awed by it,” Parker said. “With a great staff and a board that’s unified, I believe we can overcome all the obstacles ahead of us.”

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. Burroughston Broch October 19, 2012 10:21 pm

    Salary creep is upon us again. Mr. Parker’s yearly salary in San Antonio was $285,000 and he will be paid $320,000 by MARTA – a 12% increase. Prior to going to San Antonio in 2009, he was paid $200,000 a year in Charlotte. So, in 4 years during a bad economy, his salary will increase 60%. Know anyone else doing as well?
    Beverly Scott was paid $310,000 for the MARTA job but will only be paid $220,000 by MBTA – a 29% decrease. She was obviously overpaid by MARTA, and her successor Mr. Parker will be as well.Report

    1. ScottNAtlanta October 21, 2012 9:07 pm

      @Burroughston Broch I’d say for what he is about to step in…thats barely adequate.  The job in Boston will be a breeze compared to Atlanta.  They actually support transit thereReport

      1. Burroughston Broch October 22, 2012 1:04 am

        @ScottNAtlanta  MBTA’s estimated CY 2013  budget deficit is $185million, versus MARTA’s $33million. You call that support?Report

        1. ScottNAtlanta October 22, 2012 1:18 am

          @Burroughston Broch I do…because the Commonwealth of MA usually pays it.  They did last year.  One of these days people will realize that public transit is supposed to be subsidized…thats why they call it PUBLIC…supported by fares and taxes.  Unfortunately, Atlanta’s was not funded properly from the start.  Allowing Cobb and Gwinnette to benefit without paying in is not a formula for success…just take a look at the park/ride lots and check the plates on the cars if you doubt me.  I will say that zone fares would also help.  The point is, in Boston they have the full state backing, here, we have none.  In fact just the opposite.  I’m surprised Deal and Company haven’t just taken it over…he seems to be the final word on everything elseReport

        2. Burroughston Broch October 22, 2012 7:34 am

          @ScottNAtlanta The Commonwealth is not bailing out MBTA.
          From their website, they are (1) taking a series of savings and efficiencies to save $33million; (2) working with MassDOT to save $75million by implementing operating, fiscal, and administrative changes; and (3) implementing a 23% fare increase and service reductions to save the remaining $87million.
          It seems they are implementing similar measures to what McKinsey recommended to MARTA.
          Gov. Deal probably has no interest because he owns no property in MARTA’s service territory.Report

        3. inatl October 22, 2012 1:09 pm

          @ScottNAtlanta  @Burroughston Broch 
          Don’t forget that as long as we subsidize driving in cars, (zoning codes that require or result in free parking, Property and general sales taxes that match or build local roads, insurance and police, operation via traffic lights, zoning codes that promote car dependent development) transit will need subsidy to compete. 
          For instance studies of just doing Parking Cash Out where the cost of a parking spot can be exchanged for a $50 monthly credit for transit usage drives up transit use dramatically (cost of a space in a parking deck is over 20,000)
          As to cost cutting, keep in mind MARTA commissioned the KPMG study just so they could implement more cost savings measures. 
          I fully expect that as a result of the study MARTA will look to raise compensation but also improve absenteeism and lower the costs of benefits in order to be in line with national averages.Report

        4. Burroughston Broch October 22, 2012 4:24 pm

          @inatl  I don’t agree with you on compensation, since KPMG said the rank and file are already overcompensated. A comparison with what San Antonio’s VIA system pays their ATU union workers shows the same.
          We as a society need to determine where various forms of public transportation make financial sense and where they do not. For example, buses may make sense in the denser portions of suburbia but not in the boondocks.Report

        5. Burroughston Broch October 22, 2012 7:00 pm

          @inatl  I think you will be proved wrong about compensation of MARTA employees. The KPMG study concluded they are over-compensated, and a comparison of what San Antonio VIA pays their employees from the same union agrees. MARTA pays 15% more on average direct compensation and 80% more fringe benefits.
          If MARTA has to pay an employee more to improve their absenteeism, then MARTA should fire that employee and hire someone else.Report

      2. ScottNAtlanta October 22, 2012 1:20 am

        @Burroughston Broch my point was that he is going to have many more headaches than his peers in other cities…many more…unnecessary but none the less there.  I hope he can produce a miracle.  Atlanta needs oneReport

  2. inatl October 22, 2012 1:00 pm

    “who said he would be moving to a home next to a MARTA stop. “That’s going to be part of my daily plan — use my BreezeCard and ride it everyday.”
    I think this is great news and very important.  After all the best way  to understand the rider experience is to be a daily rider. 
    Though you forgot to mention another challenge a hostile legislative committee called MARTOC that …… ok ok I won’t go there. 
    I’ll just say I agree that this looks like a great selection and the MARTA board should be commended for their efforts and for the result.Report

  3. SantoBungert October 22, 2012 4:48 pm

    @MyRideSmart Come 2 GME Sports Lounge & Enjoy 2$ Tuesdays 899 MLK Jr Dr, Atlanta, Ga 30314 (Info 310-243-6568) RTReport

  4. Marta Rider October 23, 2012 2:17 pm

    He is off to a great start. Taking Marta is the best way to understand and develop a customer-focused action plan. Looking forward to seeing him on my commute.Report

  5. palepadre December 16, 2012 11:44 am

    First,many cities have older,established systems. i.e. People grew up with them.  They have worked for decades, and paying a CEO is mostly,COLA. Atlanta is new. You must pay worthwhile to attract worthwhile.
    I work nights and live in Acworth. CCT and MARTA would be a difficult way to work.  
    Another obstacle,is getting to work late,due to traffic. Buses usually cannot change their route,I can with a car. 
    My employer would have to agree to let me clock in no matter how late I got to work and allow me to leave after eight and one half hours. Don’t know of anyone’s company willing to do that?Report


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