MARTA board leader on the future

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

MARTA has a new board chairman to go along with its still relatively new GM/CEO, Keith Parker, who has been on the job for a year now. Robert Ashe, an Atlanta native, today writes about the transit agency’s determination to make train and bus commuting a more viable and attractive option for residents. In our second column, North Fulton leader Brandon Beach, a state senator, writes about the new regional transit website that will help coordinate services of MARTA, GRTA and the Cobb and Gwinnett bus lines.

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MARTA pushes for new riders

By Robert L. Ashe III

This year, MARTA marks its 35th anniversary as a combined bus and rail transit system, a significant historical milestone that we’re proud to celebrate. But even as we honor MARTA’s past, we’re taking steps to ensure we will be able to serve our community for the next 35 years and beyond.

MARTA’s Board of Directors recognized several years ago that we urgently needed to change course and improve our finances, control our costs and make our transit system more attractive to the riding public.

Through a series of corrective actions over the past several years, including engaging KPMG to do a multi-year, highly detailed set of financial, management and performance audits, and hiring Keith Parker as general manager and chief executive officer, we’ve made tangible progress achieving those objectives. After his first year on the job, we are very proud of Mr. Parker and his leadership team’s efforts to continue MARTA’s transformation.

Without any question, we still have a lot work to do. We’re not yet the transit agency we aspire to be. But today, MARTA is better positioned to make the most of the opportunities ahead and to demonstrate we’re worthy of the public’s ongoing support.

For the first time in many years, MARTA has ended the fiscal year in the black instead of drawing down our woefully depleted reserves. This development is a welcome and long-sought sign of meaningful progress for our turnaround. Our challenge now is to re-commit ourselves to the fiscal discipline, management reform and market-based revenue enhancement steps that have brought such positive news.

Fundamentally, our goal as a board — one we share wholeheartedly with our senior management, starting with Mr. Parker — is to make MARTA competitive again. First, we want to receive a growing ridership’s daily confidence in the product we deliver, and to be the option people choose. We also must compete as a recipient of public funds to ensure those precious tax dollars are being as well spent as possible, and to demonstrate to communities thinking about joining or partnering with us that we are a sound investment.

The opening of the 2014 legislative session offers a firsthand glimpse of some steps we’re taking to improve the public’s return on their investment. Our legislative agenda includes several measures that will make us more efficient, cost-effective and competitive in the marketplace for transportation services.

Even as we work for the passage of these legislative measures, our customers should expect to notice the ongoing benefits of the changes we began implementing since Mr. Parker’s arrival. Among these changes are shorter waits for trains; new, more comfortable and reliable buses; improved signage inside and outside of rail stations, and better customer service from our front-line employees.

And because improving MARTA’s bottom line is our bottom line, we’ll continue to advance other revenue-generation initiatives already underway, such as new advertising, expanding our in-station concessions programs, and vigorously pursuing the next generation of transit-oriented developments (TODs) on land we own on and around our stations.

In the coming weeks, MARTA will be making significant announcements about progress made in our new TOD program. By working with public and private sector partners, we are strategically leasing land to create transit-friendly, live-work-play communities that can help revive our urban and suburban centers.

As a native Atlantan who has watched my hometown evolve and mature, that’s very important to me. I grew up in Midtown, and still live there. Aside from college, I have lived and worked within a few blocks of MARTA stations my entire life and appreciate the freedom and mobility they give me and my family.

As chairman of the MARTA board, my colleagues and I invite you to keep watching, and even better, to keep (or start) riding. Our MARTA is going to make you proud.

Robert L. Ashe III is chairman of MARTA’s Board of Directors.

Website a step to regional transit entity

By Brandon Beach

This November, I was proud to stand with Gov. Nathan Deal as he announced that Georgia was rated No. 1 by the go-to publication for economic development professionals, Site Selection Magazine, as the best state in the nation to do business. When Gov. Deal ran for office in 2010, he promised that by the end of his first term, Georgia would achieve this honor.

This is great news for the state and the Atlanta region. However, for us to maintain the No. 1 ranking on an annual basis, we must invest in infrastructure.

One area where we have a glaring disconnect is our regional transit system. Actually, I would argue we don’t have a regional transit system; we have a very fragmented system where different entities do not communicate or coordinate with each other.

To further prove my point, earlier this year, I embarked on a transit trip from Kennesaw State University to the Gwinnett Arena. It was only a 32-mile trip, but it took me almost four hours. Each system I rode was clean, service was good, and I felt safe. But to plan my trip, I had to go to three different websites, and once I crossed jurisdictional lines to another system, I had to pay with a different method of payment.

Having to go through this process with no coordination is not good service for our current riders and surely will not attract new riders.

There are two types of transit riders: lifeline riders who do not own a car and depend on transit, and the lifestyle rider who has a car but rides transit. This summer, we held a Senate study committee on this issue and looked at the four big transit entities in metro Atlanta: MARTA, GRTA (Georgia Regional Transportation Authority) and the Cobb and Gwinnett transit systems.

We believe that if we can get these four agencies to come together to coordinate and communicate, we can make great strides in developing a regional system that will be good for our customers.

The action that came out of the committee was to develop one website for trip-planning purposes by consumers. This new website will be www.goATLtransit.com.

With the website being the first step, the end goal is to have the four transit agencies come together as one regional transit entity and then re-brand all four into The Atlanta Transit Line (The ATL).

Someone from out of town would fly into ATL and get on an ATL train, ATL bus or ATL Express Bus. This would be less confusing than all the current alphabet systems. We are not asking to add new lines or new agencies; we want to take our current assets and make them more efficient and consumer friendly.

If we are going to be a world-class region and maintain our No. 1 position in the economic development business, we cannot continue with a fragmented transit system. We owe it to our employers and citizens to offer best in class service.

I look forward in the near future to riding on the ATL.

State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, represents the 21st district, which includes portions of Cherokee and Fulton counties.

7 comments Add your comment

Stefan

January 15th, 2014
10:33 am

Great stuff, MARTA being in ‘the black’ is a huge accomplishment. Looking forward to the more frequent trains and other improvements.

phxdrcng

January 15th, 2014
7:21 am

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janet

January 14th, 2014
4:42 pm

As a proponent and user of Marta (and yes I have a car), we do need a comprehensive transit system that is interconnected. We don’t need another layer of government. I am not sure why GRTA gets state funding but MARTA doesnot? It would be interesting to compare the numbers : riders on GRTA and amount of money the state provides for them? Then riders on Marta and amount of money State provides for them? (I believe it is zero). Marta is the only mass transit system in a major metropolitan city in the US that receives Zero funding from the state within which it operates. But the outlying counties who pay no additional sales tax get a “free ride” on GRTA? I have asked several politicians in Roswell Why? And the answer is always the same “its politics”. Let’s make everyone contribute to Marta in the Metro area or let’s charge those not in Fulton and DeKalb a higher price for their rides. They take advantage of everything we Marta subsidizers pay for and don’t think twice.

ND

January 14th, 2014
10:12 am

Until they dramatically expand rail service, ridership will not significantly rise. It is that simple.

Chip

January 14th, 2014
9:50 am

Here we go again. Even the recent crushing defeat of the TSPLOST vote means nothing to the central planning control freaks. The wholesale rejection of regional mass transit means nothing. The actual “people” so celebrated by the hard Left soundly rejected the notion of an out-of-control, corrupt, bungling, incompetent, money-burning regional mass ttransit system… and still the control freaks keep coming and keep coming… totally obsessed with their fanatical plan to force people out of cars and onto nasty, urine-soaked buses and trains… all because the control freaks just can’t stand the idea that metro residents can get into their private cars and go where they choose, when they choose.

This obsession is just more proof that some people want to live off tax payer dollars while controlling the same taxpayers.

Matt P

January 14th, 2014
9:31 am

I’m unclear why we are inventing a new layer of management to handle a state problem. Cities and counties obviously are incapable of handling the challenge of people commuting from all over North Georgia to various areas in the metro Atlanta area – just as they are incapable of setting up rail lines from Atlanta to Columbus, Atlanta to Macon, Macon to Savannah, Savannah to Augusta, etc.

This is why we have the Georgia Department of Transportation. Let’s use them.

moliere

January 13th, 2014
7:59 pm

Sen. Beach:

Folding MARTA into a regional agency is not going to work. The reason is that MARTA has been supported by the city of Atlanta, Fulton County and DeKalb for going on 4 decades while the rest of the metropolitan area hasn’t invested nearly as much economic or political capital on their transportation infrastructure (let us not forget that Atlanta and Fulton have also invested a lot in Hartsfield). So why should Cobb, Gwinnett, GRTA etc. get to benefit without having to invest a dime all these decades? To put it another way, the money that Atlanta/Fulton spent on MARTA could have been used to make the sort of improvements to the city that would have retained the Braves and allowed the city to hold onto a lot of businesses and high-income residents that have skipped town for the suburbs also.

Now that Cobb County has the Braves and Kennesaw State/Southern Poly are growing, I see that Johnny Isakson has FINALLY gotten around to lobbying for the sort of mass transit projects to connect Cobb to downtown that should have been pursued decades ago. Fine, welcome to the party a day late and a dollar short, and yes a lot of it is due to the fact that Cobb County realizes that they will need low income workers to staff those Braves jobs without actually living in their county. But let Cobb and Gwinnett spend a couple of decades paying for their own mass transit systems before there is any talk of merging with MARTA. Otherwise, it is just a state attempt to grab an Atlanta/Fulton/DeKalb asset without having to have to pay for or maintain it. The state – led by the GOP – only recently stopped trying to grab away Hartsfield, using false claims of corruption and mismanagement to justify it. Let the GOP build their own infrastructure instead of merely moving on to another target.