Parker said the majority of MARTA riders — 89 percent — come from DeKalb and Fulton counties, and the transportation system employs about 7,800 workers in both counties combined. The system has an even wider influence in the metro region, he added, with an estimated $1.4 billion economic impact.
Parker told DeKalb chamber members he came to Atlanta after working for transit systems in San Antonio and Charlotte, because he was up to the challenge of tackling the problems that face MARTA today.
“It’s been a real interesting six weeks to say the least,” he said.
MARTA’s expenses currently exceed its revenues causing the system to tap into its reserves in order to operate, he said. If the system continues down the path it is on, the reserves will be depleted by 2018.
Parker said the board of directors is working to identify ways to increase efficiency and save costs. In the meantime, another challenge is to fix the public perception of the system to attract more riders and get current riders to use the system more frequently.
“We’ve got to convince you that we are a great part of Atlanta,” he said.
Before introducing Parker, Arnie Silverman, chairman of the DeKalb chamber, asked the nearly 200 attendees at the event to raise their MARTA Breeze cards in the air. Less than half had cards to show.
Parker said implementing innovative features to the transit system will attract more customers. He is looking to introduce a few of the “relatively low-cost, high impact” services he brought to San Antonio’s transit system, like free Wi-Fi or smartphone applications to estimate bus arrivals and help riders plan their commute.
“In the coming months and years, you’re going to begin to see here some of the same changes that were implemented in San Antonio,” he said.
Going forward, Parker plans to stay connected with the chamber of commerce.
“One of the things I learned a long time ago … is that if you want to be successful in any kind of business, you have to have the support of the chamber of commerce,” he said.
He added MARTA is a big supporter and partner of business.