MARTA Chief's FY15 Budget Includes No Fare Hike And Added Service
MARTA chief Keith Parker says he’s found a way to keep fares at their current level and build off plans to enhance bus and rail service. It’s part of his $886 million budget for next fiscal year.
After years of deficits and service cuts, Parker says the 2015 budget reflects a healthier system.
"We believe we are now fiscally sustainable...changing business practices for the good," said Parker.
Beginning next week, weekday wait times for trains moving through the heart of Atlanta will be cut in half to just five minutes. In addition, there will be shorter wait times for more than 15 bus routes.
Other improvements include re-opening some station bathrooms, better lighting on the platforms, and a more visible police presence.
"New police officers, new safety agents, and a couple of other positions where we have really held back on hiring people we're now going to be in a more vigorous hiring mode," said Parker.
Prior to Parker’s arrival in 2012, MARTA was projected to run annual deficits of at least $25 million.
Since then, Parker has cut millions in costs by eliminating positions, refinancing bonds, and slashing spending at the agency’s IT department.
"The reason why we were able to balance the budget wasn't because we went out and got lots of new tax dollars... it's we cut and cut and cut," said Parker.
In the future, Parker expects additional savings by cracking down on people who ride the system but don’t pay the fare.
Parker's budget includes $415.6 million for operations and $470.1 million for capital programs. MARTA would maintain roughly $160 million in cash reserves.
Tuesday, the MARTA board begins a three-day stretch of public meetings on the budget. The board is expected to vote on it June 5.
Parker’s handling of the agency has won him praise from both sides of the aisle, including the Republican chair of MARTA’s legislative oversight committee.
He hopes the momentum helps MARTA expand to Clayton County, which is considering restarting bus service for the first time since 2010.
"My assumption is, at this point, is they're going to want much more bus service than what they had before because they weren't satisfied with what they had before," said Parker.
Clayton commissioners have until July 7 to decide whether to allow a countywide vote on permanently joining MARTA.