- Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker is calling for a $100 billion investment in the city's transit and technology over the next 40 years. He said Atlanta needs a "moonshot for transit" and that the large investment is needed to keep pace with the region's growth, which is supposed to increase 50% in the next 30 years.
- Parker announced several initiatives MARTA is taking on, including establishing a Rider Advisory Council so customers have a formal voice for transit system improvements, hiring a Chief Customer Experience Officer, implementing a comprehensive employee training strategy to improve customer service and supporting transit-oriented development at stations.
- Parker made his statements at the 6th Annual State of MARTA Breakfast at which he said the system is healthy, financially stable and ready for expansion.
Parker's call for a bold, $100 billion investment furthers Atlanta's recent focus on improving transportation and transit. The city is notorious for its crippling traffic and residents' car dependency, but a big part of the problem is that citizens don't have a lot of other transportation choices because of the city's underdeveloped transit network.
Atlanta's leaders have made a concerted effort to turn around the lagging transit system and overall transportation network. The projects and initiatives to boost the system have been popping up rapidly just over the past year.
Last February, MARTA created a long-term partnership with Siemens for digital and technical services on the Atlanta Streetcar. Last March, the city received a $12.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to help fund the plan to build a 9.4-mile bus rapid transit (BRT) system. In the spring, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill creating a unified 13-county regional transit authority, the Atlanta Region Transit Link Authority (ATL), with MARTA to provide regional train service and bus service being put out to bid. And in December, the Atlanta City Council approved a long-term transportation plan that lays out about 20 programs and 200 projects to increase mobility, increase affordability and improve safety.
A number of the initiatives work toward a much-needed result: expanding Atlanta's transit beyond the city center. With a metropolitan area of 5.8 million people but only about 475,000 living in the city itself, the system must become more geographically extensive to serve a greater number of people. For example, the $48.6 million BRT project is designed to complement the Atlanta Streetcar, which only has a short route in downtown. BRT will connect to the streetcar and cover a lot more areas such as south of downtown, including Summerhill, which has been undergoing redevelopment since the Atlanta Braves left Turner Field for a new stadium.
That BRT expansion also is expected to boost economic development, another stated goal for Atlanta's transit system. In addition to Parker's aim of supporting transit-oriented development, the city's economic development authority, Invest Atlanta, created a $15 million transit-oriented development fund to support building housing near transit, including rail and streetcar lines. Creating housing near transit can reduce citizens' dependence on their cars and help cut commute times.