Hugh Bailey | Hearst Connecticut Media
Atlanta’s transit agency, MARTA, was on the brink of financial disaster when Keith Parker arrived as CEO in December of 2012. Ridership was down roughly 5 percent on the previous year. Annual losses ranged upwards of $33 million. An outside audit found the agency’s business model to be “structurally unsustainable” and projected that without major changes it was on a path toward insolvency.
“The first thing we had to do was convince people the service was even going to be here in five years,” says Parker. “There was a real sense that the agency may shutter its doors.”
So Parker, who’d overseen transit agencies in San Antonio and Charlotte, drew up a rescue plan. MARTA would cut unfilled positions but retain existing staff and launch a transit-oriented development program. He brought more work in-house: the agency developed a real-time transit information system itself for $50,000, he says, while outside firms wanted more than $1 million. And he convinced Wall Street to upgrade the agency’s credit rating.
Then he reinvested the savings. MARTA increased service and high-frequency hours, upgraded its bus fleet to natural gas, and—most importantly in Parker’s eyes—kept fares flat. As of October 2014 ridership was up for the year. In November, Clayton County voters overwhelmingly approved a penny sales tax to join the MARTA network, the first expansion since the agency formed in 1971. Read more