New MARTA general manager talks improvements to system - CBS46 News

New MARTA general manager talks improvements to system

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ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) -

Keith Parker, the new Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority general manager, sat down with CBS Atlanta News to discuss the plans he has to improve the transportation system.

"The MARTA system has a pretty good reputation nationally. I think the bones of this organization are very, very solid," Parker said.

The former head of public transportation systems in San Antonio, TX, and Charlotte, NC, said he wants to make MARTA bigger and better.

"Right now we carry a lot of people who no matter how lousy a job we do, they will ride with us," Parker said. "My job is to make sure those people get a more dignified ride every day and a more customer-friendly ride, while at the same time doing the things that we can to attract more and more folks."

Parker said simple low-cost improvements that worked in San Antonio and Charlotte can also work in Atlanta.

"From any bus stop you can text the transit system and 30 seconds later you can know real time where the next bus will be arriving," Parker said. "It cost us just a few thousand bucks, really. We added reclining seats, overhead storage, individual reading lights and individual air controls in the buses."

Parker said he also wants riders to have access to Wi-Fi and he wants more rail service in more places, which traditionally has been a tough sell.

But he acknowledged that before any of that happens, MARTA needs to get its financial house in order.

In 2012, an audit found MARTA was spending $50 million more than the national average on its employee healthcare, retirement and worker compensation packages.

Parker said he's the man to fix that.

"The benefits side may be too high, but the wage component may be a bit too low for us to continue to attract and contain the highest-level employees, so part of what we will be doing is looking at how we can balance those two things together," Parker said.

But MARTA's union said the audit is an attack on its members. Its leadership pushed back against plans to cut benefits and outsource services to save money. Parker said he's ready for what many expect to be contentious negotiations.

"My sense is as we lay out solid information, we will be able to mutually agree on a path forward," Parker said.

On Friday, the state committee that oversees MARTA peppered Parker with questions about MARTA's financial situation and indicated help will be provided when results are produced.

"The findings in the KPMG audit are significant and of great concern and obviously they require action by MARTA. So we are waiting to see what plan of attack MARTA comes up with," said State Rep. Mike Jacob, R-Brookhaven.

Parker said tough choices would have to be made. 

"You can't just wish away a $30 million operating budget. We are going to have to work on those," Parker said.

Parker said positive change is coming, but asked riders to be patient.

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