MARTA Chief Lays Out Major Changes in First Budget Proposal

MARTA General Manager Keith Parker is proposing a 2014 budget that would delay a planned fare hike while the transit agency dramatically restructures its operations.

Parker’s budget plan recommends permanently eliminating more than 140 vacant positions and privatizing seven departments including payroll and paratransit services. 

In addition, Parker wants to delay a 25-cent fare increase scheduled to hit this July. Instead, the fare hike would be rolled out in two phases beginning in the summer of 2014.

Parker, who took over as the transit agency’s chief in December, says his main goal is to get MARTA’s operating costs under control. For the last several years, the agency has run annual deficits of $25-30 million.

“Within the next four to five years, we will have shaved off so much in terms of expenses while also bringing in additional revenues that rather than being in a fiscally insolvent position, we’ll have $111 million in our reserves and have that amount begin to  grow by more than $10 million per year.”

Parker’s budget proposal also includes cuts to employee health and pension benefits, a move MARTA’s union will surely challenge during upcoming contract negotiations.

“This impacts all of our employees. Not just unionized employees, but everybody. And what we wanted to come up with is a sustainable plan for everyone,” said Parker. 

Much of the plan builds off a recent audit conducted by consulting firm KPMG showing MARTA is paying employees considerably more than the national average in benefits.

Other items in Parker’s budget signal efforts to partly restore service that was cut in 2010, reopen public restrooms, install security cameras on buses and trains, and raise some employee salaries.

Public hearings on the plan take place next month. MARTA’s board ultimately must sign off.