Keith Parker is the first person in a long time who appears to have general acclaim for his performance as the transit agency’s chief. His contract was extended recently. Ridership is up about 10 percent for the quarter, part of a steady rise since he took over at the end of 2012. MARTA renegotiated terms with the labor union, allowing for the first pay increase since 2006. Service has been expanded. The 1-cent sales tax Clayton County voted for to join MARTA will bring new service there this year. The new Atlanta streetcar will take MARTA fare cards when it begins charging in a few months. And companies are starting to locate close to MARTA stations as a recruiting tool.
MARTA has been able to achieve much of this success through aggressive cost cutting and revenue management. Parker in-sourced expensive IT contracts and started using cost-efficient natural gas buses, for example. But the next stage of cost containment may rankle some folks who’ve been taking advantage for a while.
The lots at Lenox, Midtown, Arts Center and Vine City will be fitted with machines that will only allow exit for free after swiping a recently-used MARTA card. People will apparently still be able to park for free for under 24 hours at some lots on the outskirts, but MARTA will replace cashiers with machines backed by off-site teleconferenced help.
MARTA is also taking bids on technology for smartphone payment — and there’s no shortage of local payment processing firms to try for it — that would also show open spaces at different lots.
Sounds great so far. If people are using free MARTA lots to escape the evils of PARKAtlanta and street spaces, then I’m all for a crackdown.
That said … MARTA plans to turn over its own parking enforcement to a third party.
“The contract with the winning parking agency will guarantee MARTA a stream of revenue of at least $562,000 a year and rising if revenues rise. MARTA wouldn’t have to foot the bill for implementing the new technology, a cost that could run $5 million to $6 million, according to MARTA. And the transit agency believes the operational cost savings of running the lots with machines will more than cover the cost of implementing them.”
This resembles the line that the city of Atlanta used to justify turning over parking enforcement to Duncan Solutions, PARKAtlanta’s parent. And PARKAtlanta is, as we all know now, Satan’s valet service. The PARKAtlanta contract rivals the Falcons stadium deal for the most hated decision made by Atlanta’s leadership in the last 10 years.
I remain cautiously optimistic. But let’s look closely at the service levels guaranteed in the contract, please, and not just the amount of money a contractor promises to raise. Thanks.