By Steve Brown
As one of the more energetic opponents of the T-SPLOST, I believe the recent news on MARTA should give us the expectation that our urban transit situation can improve.
First, we are identifying the significant problems with MARTA. That’s a good start. We now must address those problems, or continue to fail.
Outgoing General Manager Beverly Scott has always been forthright on MARTA’s financial woes, but the answer lies outside the traditional central planning transit box. Likewise, I agree with Rep. Mike Jacobs that it would be very wise to look at privatizing certain components of MARTA.
We need to find ways to make MARTA a serious, lean contender in various segments of the transportation marketplace or allow private operations to fill the void.
Metro Atlanta currently has some private transit bus operators who have worked certain niche sectors quite well.
The Atlanta Public Sector Alliance is demanding a “regional transit system that is just and equitable,” but the cost of this artificial equality would be an overwhelming financial burden. Similarly, the non-MARTA counties should not be expected to pay for the overpriced service now in place.
A profitable MARTA system certainly seems unrealistic, but we ought to demand the financial gap be narrowed much more than the status quo. I do not really care if MARTA is the ninth-largest system in the country. I would rather claim that we have the most efficient and productive system.
The defeat of the T-SPLOST has forced MARTA to take a serious stance on dealing with significant challenges they face, instead of limping along on regional taxes in an unsustainable system.
Second, I like the “get-it-done” attitude of the new MARTA Board Chairman Frederick Daniels Jr. It’s refreshing to hear the leadership demand more action and fewer excuses. Also, I hope new General Manager Keith Parker will attempt to look at solutions beyond traditional transit fixes and make some serious headway toward an ultra-efficient transportation product.
Third, let’s expect MARTA to be willing to listen. It’s difficult for any governmental entity to heed the advice of its critics. However, I believe MARTA would benefit from widening its communications channel. MARTA as an institution has long suffered from insulating themselves, which makes their cries for financial assistance fall on deaf ears.
Change is never easy, but MARTA knows it’s necessary. MARTA can turn the recent bad press into an opportunity to convince its stakeholders to release some control and examine the possibility of creating a new and better system.
Steve Brown is a Fayette County commissioner.