MARTA, union at odds

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Today, the union that represents MARTA employees writes about its safety concerns and management’s alleged lack of response to them. The chief issue is bus safety; the union says too many vehicles each day are not passing muster. In our second piece, MARTA’s top official refutes the charges and outlines how the agency is addressing safety issues.

Commenting is open below.

Officials ignore MARTA safety issues

By Curtis Howard

Lost in the discussion about privatization of MARTA is the fact that the agency, even with the “enlightened” leadership of Keith Parker, is behaving very much like private companies that seek to take over public properties: It is skimping on safety, putting unsafe buses on the road and ignoring its own safety rules, hoping that no one will notice.

The ATU has noticed that safety is not Parker’s top priority, that he is over-spending on equipment that doesn’t work, and that his motto seems to be “schedules before safety.”

Last year, there were over 10,000 “swap outs,” meaning buses taken off the road. These are MARTA numbers. Nearly 30 buses per day have problems that should have been — could have been — addressed before the buses posed a danger.

On March 13, we sent a 300-page comprehensive complaint to 30 city, state and federal agencies and our elected officials. To date, only state Sen. Vincent Fort and the Federal Transit Administration have responded. Missing in action when it comes to protecting the public? MARTOC Chairman Mike Jacobs, the state Department of Transportation and MARTA board Chairman Fred Daniels.

Parker’s only response was to call the Amalgamated Transit Union, imploring ATU to send a joint letter to the Federal Transit Administration saying that the ATU and MARTA were working together to fix the problems. Since that would have been a lie, I rejected Mr. Parker’s request as too late, a possible backdoor attempt at a safety cover-up.

In an April 29 letter, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff promised an FTA review of the issues, adding that he looked forward to partnering with the ATU, MARTA and the Georgia DOT to “resolve this matter.”

We have tried repeatedly to get MARTA to address these serious concerns. Sadly, we have been met with silence, which is particularly offensive since MARTA board members are supposed to answer to the elected officials who appoint them, and ultimately to the riding public.

In December 2012, Jack Jackson, the ATU’s Financial Secretary, wrote to MARTA board members informing them that MARTA was not adhering to safety guidelines established in 2009 by the ATU-MARTA Joint Health and Safety committee. He was ignored. On March 1, Jackson wrote to Parker asking him to deal with “the numerous safety issues at MARTA.”

The answer? Silence.

The intransigence of Daniels and Parker is now in the sunshine of public discussion, instead of the darkened rooms of MARTA, where records proving our case are stored – away from public eyes.

We welcome input from the mayor and governor and the MARTA board as to how they will repair the damage — and the buses — and how they will insist that Parker stop taking chances with the lives of our passengers and drivers.

Curtis Howard is president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732 of the AFL-CIO.

MARTA committed to safety, workers

By Keith Parker

As MARTA’s general manager — and a regular MARTA customer — my top priority is ensuring that our transit system is as safe as possible. That’s why I’m working with our board of directors, my management team and employees to establish a top-to-bottom “safety culture” that permeates this agency.

I want to stress that while MARTA is a safe transit system, we recognize the need to do more to improve the overall reliability, appearance and safety of our buses, trains and Mobility vehicles. The fact is, MARTA faces challenges similar to other transit systems whose aging bus fleets are subjected to heavy-duty traffic conditions and relentless wear and tear. Although MARTA must replace or “swap out” a number of buses each day that are not deemed roadworthy, a small fraction of them are pulled from service for specific safety reasons.

Still, we are replacing and renewing our bus fleet, upgrading our programs and taking every opportunity to instill a commitment to safety excellence. We are also re-investing in our employees, some of whom have gone nearly a decade without a pay raise, to boost morale and foster pride in their work.

Representatives of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 732, are aware of these efforts and have been invited to meet with management to share their ideas and expertise. As such, I was surprised to hear claims by ATU’s leadership that MARTA is ignoring legitimate safety issues just to save money.

There is no disputing that MARTA must get its fiscal house in order to improve existing transit services while positioning ourselves for future investment and expansion. We are now transforming MARTA through prudent but aggressive cost-cutting measures, efficiency innovations and new revenue-generation opportunities.

But MARTA will not knowingly allow the safety of our transit system to be compromised for any reason. Despite cuts proposed for most departments in MARTA’s 2014 budget, we plan to add staff and resources to areas that directly impact our customers, especially those involving safety and security. To see our documents: www.itsmarta.com/2013_APR23_Safety_Issues_Operator_Safety_Committee_document.pdf.

Our chief operating officer recently formed an inter-departmental task force of staff and union representatives who work side-by-side to review MARTA’s existing, pre-trip protocol for bus operators and make safety improvements as needed.

MARTA has also responded in writing to an ATU letter about safety and provided the labor union with a detailed, point-by-point explanation of how we are addressing their concerns. We eagerly await their reply. We are also in the midst of a comprehensive assessment of MARTA’s operations and welcome the opportunity to work with stakeholders with the Federal Transit Administration and others to make improvements.

None of these activities can be accomplished without the participation of every employee. Our bus operators, radio dispatchers, mechanics and service workers are, of course, paramount to our success.

I encourage ATU leaders and membership to work with us and remain focused on making our transit system as safe as it can be for the well-being of customers, employees and the general public.

Keith Parker is MARTA CEO and general manager.

10 comments Add your comment

zeke

May 22nd, 2013
11:15 am

ALL UNIONS SHOULD BE BANNED CONSTITUTIONALLY AS SUBVERSIVE!!!

Of course marta, a rabid left wing redistribution scheme is not much better!

ST woman

May 21st, 2013
9:23 pm

My husband and I visited Atlanta in 2008. We used MARTA every day. We were very happy with the system. Often the public is not aware of what is happening within the organization. I believe that most of the drivers do truly care about the safety of the passengers. Management is often too far removed from the actual operations to be the best judge. Please don’t rush to blame the Union or the drivers.

Jm

May 21st, 2013
7:25 pm

Unions stink

SAWB

May 21st, 2013
2:43 pm

Bernie said, “Mr.Parker and MARTA’s most recent decision of investing MARTA funds into the planned $10 million and counting Trolly System in downtown Atlanta is a complete WASTE and ABUSE of needed Transportation funds.”

I actually agree 100% those funds would have been better used for the core operation of MARTA. However, I’m not sure, but weren’t those Federal Funds that were specifically designated for the Trolley Folly? I’m not sure MARTA had the option of using them for anything else, but I could be mistaken. I am by no means some apologist for Mr. Parker, but at this point want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Bernie

May 21st, 2013
1:52 pm

SAWB @ 11:18 pm – I would have to respectfully disagree with your comment. Mr.Parker and MARTA’s most recent decision of investing MARTA funds into the planned $10 million and counting Trolly System in downtown Atlanta is a complete WASTE and ABUSE of needed Transportation funds.

Especially from a transportation system who gets Zero State Funding and must cede to State Control. This investment into the Trolly Boondoggle is a political appeasement to those at Atlanta City Hall Government.

These needed Funds, should have been re-invested back into the Failing Marta Transit system to improve overall needed transit and rail service, customer service concerns, Training, Long term Planning, Budgetary issues and correct the many safety issues that were not clearly identifed and articulated by Mr.Howard.

J Throckmorton Malcontent

May 21st, 2013
11:56 am

The buses neither run on time nor are anything but wheezing, spavined beasts. Neither situation has improved since the endless series of service cuts & fare increases began. I’d ride in a go-kart powered by strapped on rockets with a pail of kerosene in my lap if it meant the system ran to schedule, so run those buses till they blow up.

xxx

May 21st, 2013
9:08 am

Really? Pandering union rehtoric disguised as a geniune concern for safety. Put up or shut up- have your drivers start turning down that overtime. Didn’t think so.

New Math

May 21st, 2013
8:27 am

This would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.The Union wants us to believe they care about safety when they are the one’s directly responsible for the work done on the buses.This is an indictment on themselves and their poor work track record.If the Union thinks that using this tactic will move the ball forward,their leadership is clueless. This just accelerates the move toward outsourcing by showing their incompetence.

An observer

May 21st, 2013
8:00 am

An internal debate about which not too many people care. Work it out and provide a service useful to the public. Keep squabbling and prove that public mass transit is not viable.

SAWB

May 20th, 2013
11:18 pm

Mr. Howard seems to believe that money grows on trees and that Mr. Parker is committing some appalling act by attempting to improve MARTA’s fiscal situation. The State should free MARTA to manage 100% of the budget and let them sink or swim on their own. If Mr. Parker makes the right decisions by focusing on customer service and fiscal responsibility MARTA can be a viable asset for the region. I also believe this may include outsourcing some of their functions including maintenance and we all knows that is what Mr. Howard’s accusations are really all about.