Jeff Parker said MARTA needs to be ready for a population surge coming to metro Atlanta in the next three decades.

“MARTA needs a moon shot for transit to ensure metro Atlanta’s growth as a world-class region,” the transit authority’s CEO and general manager said. “The greater Atlanta region is expected to grow in population by more than 50 percent over the next 30 years, essentially, adding the population of Denver, Colorado, to the metro region.

“We have to make bold decisions now that include a landmark investment in our transit network to fund innovative solutions to our traffic woes and renew our commitment to future generations.”

Parker spoke on that and more Friday at the sixth annual State of MARTA breakfast meeting at the Lowe’s Atlanta Hotel in Midtown, where he gave the annual State of MARTA Address. The event also celebrated the 40th anniversary of MARTA’s combined bus and rail service.

Though he didn’t mention it by name, Parker could have been referring to Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority, also known as the ATL, when mentioning how MARTA will keep up with metro Atlanta’s future growth.

MARTA is in the process of transitioning into the ATL, a new regional authority that will implement transit projects across 13 metro counties and ensure plans connect efficiently across jurisdictions, though MARTA and the other transit agencies involved will still exist. Though that transition has begun, it likely won’t be completed until 2020.

Having been with the authority for nine months, this was Parker’s first State of MARTA address as he spoke to more than 800 community, business and civic leaders, not so much about MARTA’s past accomplishments, but what lies in its future.

During his address, Parker announced several initiatives MARTA is undertaking, including establishing the authority’s first Rider Advisory Council, which will provide customers a voice to make meaningful improvements to the transit system.

In addition, MARTA will create a new chief customer experience officer who will represent MARTA customers internally, “and will influence what we do and how we do it,” Parker said.

In addition, the transit system plans to launch a multi-year initiative to enhance and overhaul all 38 MARTA stations that support jurisdictional priorities around economic development, workforce housing and community engagement.

Parker also said the authority is planning to implement a comprehensive training strategy for frontline employees and management to improve its customer service.

“We are also creating a station manager career track program for frontline employees who deal directly with our customers,” Parker said.

In addition, MARTA board chair Freda Hardage also reflected on MARTA’s years of service at the meeting and the need for continued regional collaboration among metro Atlanta leaders to keep the nation’s ninth-largest transit system “on track,” she said.

“It really takes our employees, business leaders, elected officials and our riders coming together to help make MARTA stronger,” she said. “My predecessor, Robbie Ashe, did a yeoman’s job leading MARTA’s board of directors while working closely with all of our stakeholders and leaders across the state.

“This is being done to advance regional mobility and accessibility and today, we build on our commitment to build upon that same dynamic zeal as we look to the next 40 years for MARTA.”

In his address, Parker thanked the MARTA board of directors for their trust and confidence in him as well as thanking District 21 State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, and outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for their work to enhance rapid transit.

“I look forward to working with Governor-Elect Brian Kemp and Lt. Governor-elect Geoff Duncan to keep this momentum going,” he said.

Parker concluded his address by saying, “It takes everyone to make what MARTA wants to do a reality.”

“That is to make metro Atlanta the truly world class region we know it can be,” he said.


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