Cause for Optimism at MARTA

March 10, 2014

I anticipate House Bills 264 and 265, two bills I introduced last year that would affect MARTA, will be revived for consideration in this year’s General Assembly. These bills had several mandates in them related to privatization and efficient governance. I will discuss these bills at greater length in a future update, but wanted to set the stage by republishing the following editorial I wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on December 10, 2013:

December 2013 marked the one-year anniversary of Keith Parker’s installation as general manager of MARTA. He arrived in Atlanta from previous stints in Charlotte and San Antonio where he was well-liked and respected on both sides of the political divide.

When Mr. Parker arrived, parties who had been involved in his selection said he had the potential to be the transformative leader that MARTA sorely needed. The transit system had been slashing service and hemorrhaging red ink as far as the eye could see.

I was not optimistic. Now entering my tenth year as a member of the state legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee (MARTOC) and my fourth year as its chairman, Mr. Parker is the fifth general manager to serve during my tenure. MARTA leadership has been a revolving door.

Today, after a full year of Keith Parker’s leadership, I can safely say that I was wrong, a rare statement to be made by someone in elected office. There is cause for optimism at MARTA, and Mr. Parker is at the root of it.

When Keith Parker arrived at MARTA, there was a management audit sitting on his desk that the accounting and consulting firm KPMG had completed in 2012 at the behest of MARTA’s prior management. KPMG recommended, among other things, the privatization of certain aspects of MARTA’s operations, including paratransit bus service, bus and train cleaning, human resources and payroll, and various information technology functions.

The aim of the KPMG audit is cost savings and efficiency. Its recommendations are drawn from the best practices of other transit systems and the private sector. For example, MARTA has had its own payroll department. Live MARTA employees have processed its payroll. This is a function widely outsourced in both the public and private sectors these days.

Some state lawmakers are determined to keep the KPMG audit from collecting dust. This is the fate of so many studies performed for governmental entities. Some studies deserve that fate, but not a study the purpose of which is to help MARTA save money and operate more efficiently.

Keith Parker assured me that the KPMG audit would not collect dust. I adopted the Ronald Reagan doctrine: “Trust but verify.” After all, savings and efficiency have not been MARTA’s strong suit over the years. Every couple of months, we hold a MARTOC meeting and put the implementation of the KPMG audit on the agenda.

KPMG furnished a five-year road map for implementing its privatization recommendations. Keith Parker is following through with his commitment. He and his staff are making progress where progress desperately needs to be made.

Another area where Mr. Parker has excelled is boosting confidence in public safety. MARTA’s crime statistics always have stacked up well against peer transit systems, but infractions like loud music and aggressive panhandling have tended to sour the public perception of safety. As with many things in life, perception becomes reality. MARTA loses riders as a result.

When I speak about MARTA at public gatherings these days, the “Ride with Respect” campaign always comes up. Spearheaded by Keith Parker, this effort includes a crackdown on unruly behavior and an aggressive public relations blitz. It coincides with MARTA installing closed-circuit cameras on all of its buses and trains.

The legislature and MARTA, a state-created authority, historically have had a chilly relationship. Listen closely, however, and you will hear the dripping of thawing ice.

The keys to improved relations with the General Assembly are implementing the KPMG recommendations, achieving cost savings and operational efficiencies in the way MARTA is run, and improving the quality of life for MARTA riders.

Clearly, Keith Parker understands what needs to be done. Hopefully the revolving door will stop spinning for a while. I am glad Mr. Parker arrived in Atlanta.


Schools Closed Wednesday & Georgia Power Hotline

February 11, 2014

DeKalb County Public Schools will be closed tomorrow, Wednesday, February 12. Fulton County announced yesterday that schools will be closed Wednesday, as well.

Widespread — and probably universal — closings are expected Wednesday. Tomorrow’s winter storm is anticipated to be worse than the storm two weeks ago. This storm is expected to be more of an ice event, which could cause downed trees and power lines.

If you experience a power outage or downed power line, Georgia Power’s 24/7 hotline for reporting these issues is (888) 891-0938.

WSB-TV has an up-to-date list of closings. Please click here to find current information regarding additional weather-related closings.

Some local governments are posting updated information on their websites, which are as follows:

Brookhaven brookhavenga.gov

Chamblee chambleega.com

Doraville doravillega.us

Dunwoody dunwoodyga.gov

Sandy Springs sandyspringsga.gov

DeKalb County co.dekalb.ga.us

Fulton County fultoncountyga.gov

MARTA itsmarta.com


DeKalb Sanitation & Winter Storm Update

February 10, 2014

In anticipation of the winter weather, DeKalb County sanitation will not operate tomorrow, Tuesday, February 11. There will be no trash pick-up Tuesday if it is your usual day.

Fulton County schools will be closed both Tuesday and Wednesday, February 11 and 12. DeKalb schools have only announced a closure for Tuesday. DeKalb will announce its Wednesday intentions sometime tomorrow.

MARTA, however, will be operating a normal weekday schedule on Tuesday. This is a great alternative if you must go somewhere tomorrow.

Last but not least, the City of Brookhaven has provided the following update on its winter weather preparations:

In anticipation of more icy winter weather, Brookhaven City Manager Marie Garrett held an emergency response meeting this morning to ensure that public works, public safety, facility management and city communications teams will remain in a constant state of readiness throughout this storm event.

As a result of the meeting, the Brookhaven City Council work session and regular meeting scheduled for tomorrow, Feb. 11, have been canceled.

In preparation for the storm, the city has already taken the following steps:

More officers: Additional police officers have been called in to report early for duty. Overnight accommodations have been made for these officers allowing them to remain in the city during rest periods and report early for their shifts.

Storm precincts: Brookhaven officers will be positioned at various locations throughout the city to ensure residents have easy access to an officer if need be.

Detectives stay over: The Brookhaven Criminal Investigative Department Detectives will remain in the city during the storm.

Pre-treating roads: Brookhaven Public Works crews are on standby to begin pre-treating roads and bridges as early as tomorrow afternoon.

Public works command posts: Two emergency public works command posts will be set up at Brookhaven City Hall and the Brookhaven Police Department

GDOT Coordination: The city has been coordinating with the Georgia Department of Transportation to organize treating the city’s two state-operated thoroughfares, Peachtree Road and Buford Highway.

Material supply check: Brookhaven crews have already checked on the salt/ sand mix supply to ensure that quantities exceed predicted need.

Coordination with MARTA: The city will remain in communication with MARTA regarding road safety as is relates to bus schedules.

Mayor J. Max Davis asks that residents stay off the roads if possible to allow for public works crews to treat city roadways and bridges.

With precipitation expected to contain more ice than the previous winter storm, residents should be prepared for the possibility of fallen trees and power outages. Below is a list of emergency phone numbers in case of need:

To report emergency maintenance issues, such as fallen trees, please call Brookhaven Public Works at 404-637-0540, wait for prompt, then press 1.

In the event of a power or gas outage or landline phone or cable disruption, please use the following emergency dispatch numbers for the utility companies that service the City of Brookhaven.

Georgia Power – 888-891-0938. http://www.georgiapower.com

AT&T – 404-896-3880, Option 5. http://www.att.com

Atlanta Gas Light – 770-994-1946. http://www.atlantagaslight.com

Comcast – 800-266-2278. http://www.comcast.com

Please check the city’s web site and social media channels for additional road conditions updates. Residents are also encouraged to tune in to local news channels to receive weather updates.


Schools Remain Closed Friday, January 31

January 30, 2014

The DeKalb and Fulton County school systems will remain closed tomorrow, Friday, January 31.

Although the schools will be closed, some local governmental functions are expected to reopen tomorrow. In some (but not all) instances, city and county governments have been posting up-to-date closure information on their websites, which are as follows:

Brookhaven brookhavenga.gov

Chamblee chambleega.com

Doraville doravillega.us

Dunwoody dunwoodyga.gov

Sandy Springs sandyspringsga.gov

DeKalb County co.dekalb.ga.us

Fulton County fultoncountyga.gov

MARTA itsmarta.com

WSB-TV also has a helpful list of closures throughout Metro Atlanta, which can be found by clicking here.


Winter Storm Closures for Thursday, January 30

January 29, 2014

The DeKalb and Fulton County school systems will remain closed tomorrow, Thursday, January 30. The DeKalb and Fulton County governments likewise will be closed. All courts in both counties will be closed. The state government will be closed as well.

Governor Deal and all local jurisdictions continue to highly recommend that motorists stay off the roads tomorrow.

Some city governments previously had announced an intent to open mid-day on Thursday. That is subject to change. In some instances, up-to-date information for each city can be found on their websites:

Brookhaven brookhavenga.gov

Chamblee chambleega.com

Doraville doravillega.us

Dunwoody dunwoodyga.gov

Sandy Springs sandyspringsga.gov

WSB-TV also has a helpful list of closures throughout Metro Atlanta, which can be found by clicking here.

MARTA CEO Keith Parker has informed me that buses will begin to run Thursday at 8:00 a.m. Trains have been running throughout the storm aftermath. Train service will run tonight until 1:30 a.m. Please be patient, however, because there has been heavy ridership and significant delays.


GA 400 Toll Ends November 22

November 10, 2013

Last year, Governor Deal announced an end to the Georgia 400 toll. I’m proud to see our Governor keep a promise to North Fulton and North DeKalb taxpayers that was made more than two decades ago.

The toll will be collected for the last time during the evening rush hour on Friday, November 22, and will end shortly after that time. There are less than two weeks remaining.

The dismantling of the toll plaza is already underway. I am pleased to share the following e-mail from Dan Moody, the member of the State Transportation Board who represents the 6th Congressional District, explaining how the removal of the toll plaza will unfold:

The State Road and Tollway Authority and the Georgia Department of Transportation announced that the first phase of a four-phase demolition project will begin on Friday, October 25, 2013, with restriping in the Peach Pass electronic toll lanes and modification/removal of redundant signage. Portable message signs will be placed in the corridor to alert motorists of the upcoming pre-construction activities for the ending of tolls on GA 400 the week before Thanksgiving, weather permitting.

Phase I of the project will include the restriping in the electronic Peach Pass lanes and the start of the removal or modification of toll-related signage from areas approaching the GA 400 Toll Plaza within the next two to three weeks. Nearly 70 signs will be removed or modified before and after toll collection ends.

In Phase II, preparation for no tolling continues with the completion of restriping and the installation of concrete barriers between the Peach Pass and cash lanes in anticipation of the eventual shifting of traffic into the electronic lanes when toll collection ends. Once tolls end and traffic is shifted in Phase III, no heavy demolition work is expected to take place during the winter holidays. Phase IV will begin in January 2014 and will include removal of plaza toll booths, the canopy as well as reinforcement and filling of the tunnel stairwells. The demolition project will be completed in the fall of 2014.


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