Keith Parker accepted the position of general manager and CEO for MARTA in December 2012, when reports said the transit authority would be “fiscally bankrupt” by 2017, Parker said during a Dec. 15 Dunwoody-Perimeter Chamber luncheon.
Now, three years later, Parker said he wants people to think of MARTA as the norm and all other modes of transportation, such as cars, as an alternative. He’s managing this vision by “building a better MARTA,” Parker said.
Wi-Fi on more buses in 2016, fresh food at train stops and an entire “MARTA Army” devoted to improvements are a few of the ways service is improving.
Rather than facing bankruptcy, Parker said MARTA is expected to pull a more than $200 million surplus in fiscal year 2017.
He’s fixed many basics that MARTA lacked, such as restrooms, and customer service satisfaction if the highest it’s been in 20 years, Parker said.
By focusing on rider safety and installing what Parker calls a “smart restroom,” many riders are returning. Part of the intelligence of the transit bathrooms is the fact that an automated system designed to allow users in one at a time and to check on them if they stay past a certain time limit.
This automation also saves money, making the restroom “virtually graffiti proof,” and increasing public safety, Parker said.
“This is one of the smartest restrooms in the country,” Parker said of a pilot program at the Lindbergh MARTA stop. “It lets you in and you have a few minutes to take care of your business and if you take too long the restroom will ask you, ‘Are you OK?’” Parker said.
If the person inside needs help, the restroom could call an ambulance or police, he said.
While many riders agree to use train service, Parker said fewer people agree to use buses.
“In the next few months, you’ll begin to see a removal of the one-size-fits-all bus service, where everyone uses the 40-foot bus and that’s it,” Parker said.
Mid-sized buses and larger 60-foot buses “with every type of amenity you could think of,” Parker said will serve varying needs in neighborhoods.
Additional future goals include crafting bus service, tailoring service to individual needs, Parker said.
“We are partnering with the Bicycle Coalition on a number of initiatives,” Parker said. “We know bikes are a big thing of what’s coming next in Atlanta and we want to be on the forefront of that.”