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MARTA Moving Into The Future
Keith T. Parker | Atlanta Forward Blog

 

BOSTON — The federal government this week pledged nearly $1 billion to help finance the expansion of the Massachussets Bay Area Transportation Authority's (MBTA) Green Line from Cambridge into Somerville and Medford, a major boost for the long-promised transit project, The Boston Globe reported.

If the events of 2014 offer a prelude of what’s possible for transportation in our fast-growing region, then 2015 could be a watershed year for MARTA, transit in metro Atlanta and around the state.

 

While MARTA continues to look ahead, a quick review of several major developments that unfolded last year should be a source of optimism for those who appreciate the value of providing cost-effective and reliable transportation choices for residents and visitors.

 

In November, Clayton County voters passed a historic referendum to join MARTA by an overwhelming 3-to-1 margin, marking the first time the system has been expanded since its inception more than four decades ago. The first MARTA buses will roll into Clayton in March.

 

Last week, MARTA proudly joined with partners at the city of Atlanta and Central Atlanta Progress to launch the Atlanta Streetcar, a 2.7-mile project that connects the storied Auburn Avenue corridor with the downtown business district, hotels, sports venues, shopping and tourist attractions.

 

Another major 2014 highlight that coincided with the streetcar launch was the release of a report by the Joint Legislative Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding. The committee’s recommendations could lead to much-needed transportation improvements when lawmakers convene next week for the 2015 legislative session.

 

The renewed focus on transportation as a state and regional priority couldn’t be timelier as we continue to recover from the Great Recession. Creating job opportunities and shoring up the roads, bridges and transit systems that support economic growth and sustain our quality of life are issues that should transcend politics. Consider this: The American Public Transportation Association, an industry trade organization, reports that every dollar spent on public transit produces $4 in economic activity and has a positive impact on property values.

 

It’s also obvious Georgia can’t afford to wait for Congress to pass a long-term transportation-funding bill. If and when that happens, it likely won’t cure our problems. We must be prepared to take matters into our own hands. To remain competitive in a globalized economy and to attract a high-quality, tech-savvy workforce, there is consensus in metro Atlanta for making homegrown investments in transit that the public wants and can generate significant dividends.

 

The Atlanta Regional Commission’s “Metro Atlanta Speaks Survey” found 92 percent of respondents rated transit as “very” or “somewhat” important to address the region’s mounting transportation challenges. (It’s noteworthy that support for transit in the survey was strong in counties that had access to MARTA or other transit providers, as well as in those that do not.)

 

What does this all mean for MARTA in 2015 and beyond? For one, going forward, we strongly urge the Legislature to include transit in any transportation-related funding proposals. The public — especially the car-shunning millennial generation — is clamoring for the travel alternatives transit effectively provides.

 

In the meantime, MARTA remains committed to making good on our pledge to remove every legitimate reason for not investing in us. To change old perceptions about the agency, we are changing the reality. We are striving to be as efficient as possible and to keep demonstrating we are prudent financial stewards. As our bus and rail on-time performance has increased, we know we must do even better on every trip, every day. In short, we are striving for routine excellence in all we do.

 

We are making substantial progress in getting MARTA back on track. We have stabilized our expenses, balanced our last three fiscal year budgets and increased revenues. These changes led to an upgrade of our credit rating that will save taxpayers millions of dollars in the coming years.

 

After years of decline, our ridership has shown promising signs of rebounding. And our Transit-Oriented Development program has been a hit with the commercial real estate community and with major companies relocating near our stations because their workers increasingly prefer taking transit to driving.

 

We are advancing several cutting-edge initiatives to make our transit system more attractive, convenient and even safer than it already is. We’re planning new systems to let customers pay fares by cellphone and to connect their mobile devices wirelessly on trains and buses, and we’re testing high-tech “smart” restrooms at rail stations. The MARTA Police Department is rolling out artificial intelligence software that can detect abnormal activity, enabling our officers to respond more quickly to an emergency.

 

To find out more about what MARTA has in store, visit www.itsmarta.com at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday to view a live stream of the annual “State of MARTA” breakfast. Join the online conversation on the future of regional transportation using #SOM15, and share how you’d like to see MARTA move from good to great.

 

Keith T. Parker is CEO and general manager of MARTA.