Marta's New Story: “RIDING WITH RESPECT”

That’s the new motto that Keith T. Parker, General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), has implemented in Atlanta, and he is taking steps to ensure that commuters experience nothing less. 

Successfully overseeing transportation systems in Charlotte, Virginia, San Antonio, California and Washington, Parker is well equipped and up for the challenge.
       Since taking the helm of MARTA one year ago, two of the biggest challenges that Parker encountered were employee morale and public perception. He is diligently working to turn those challenges into successes by leading the organization in a new direction. “Most of our folks have not had raises and read lots of negative things about themselves in the local media, or seen television stories that just weren’t very favorable, so the morale of the agency was quite low. Overall public perception of the agency…they’re viewed as very negative. People blame MARTA for many, many things including the failure of an  initiative over a year ago...many people think that MARTA holds Atlanta back from drawing new corporate partners and holds back the economy.”
      But Parker has proved otherwise and wants the public to know the new story. “We make an investment in our employees to let them know they are valued and we care about them; and, we are doing a number of things to show that this agency is well run, spends taxpayer dollars wisely, and is something for the region to be proud of,” Parker maintains.
      Why do people opt to maneuver around horrendous traffic in their vehicles every day, rather than choose public transportation? Parker thinks there are several reasons. “Agencies and planning groups…when Atlanta was being formed, mass transit was not at the top of the list of what was important. As the region has unfolded, essentially people have moved to where the highways take them. What we have to try to do is retrofit our service to serve a huge 18 county metropolis. That is very difficult because we have limited amounts of resources.” Secondly, Parker feels that “much of the South is a place where people view cars as a part of freedom and a status symbol, and mass transit has not shared that same level of status. Finally, it’s just a matter of convenience,” which Parker wants to combat by building more services, being more frequent, and changing the image of the system which is well underway with the new “Ride with Respect” campaign.
      When he is not overseeing Atlanta’s transit system, Parker takes on several other roles, that of husband and father to three children – two daughters, 14 and 10, and a one year old son. He credits his family for keeping him balanced. “The balance happens over time. I try to attend as many of my kids’ events and programs and activities as I can with my wife…we have a very strong foundation. We’ve been married now for 17 years and been together even longer. They keep me well-grounded.” Parker goes on to talk about some of the things that helped shape his success. “I feel like I’m a person who has been blessed in a number of different ways – great parents – very solid support system growing up.  I don’t think there is anything particularly special about me, just been in the right place at the right time and taken advantage of situations as they have arisen.” Parker believes that we really should try to eliminate all the excuses and take advantage of opportunities. “Never before in the history of our country has there been more opportunity for African Amercians.  I try to be a good person as best I can be; I’m certainly fallible but also striving to be a little bit better than I am today – tomorrow.”
      Year two at MARTA? Becoming even more efficient is at the top of the list as well as continuous investment in employees. He praises his employees for their hard work, outstanding efforts, and giving spirits. Over the last 30 years, employees have donated money to different causes ($700,000 this past year) through MARTA’s program of giving back to the community through charitable programs. Parker is proud of MARTA employees because they did this even when they did not receive increases. “Right now…we have more than 6,000 toys including almost 1,000 bicycles downstairs in our atrium, and we will be serving over 5000 families over the next few days. Many of these are our own customers.”
      “MARTA has a lot of good new stories out there,” Parker says. He encourages people to ride MARTA and maintains, “It’s safe!”  Not only does he encourage people to use public transportation, but he sets the example by riding MARTA just about every day. He notes that MARTA is one of the safest large transit systems in the country when compared to Dallas, Houston, DC, and New York as far as Tier 1 or violent crimes. “But there is what is called ‘knucklehead’ behavior such as playing music too loud and eating,” Parker says.  “The ‘Ride with Respect’ campaign is clamping down on that type of behavior and the public is embracing the program.” Parker definitely has a plan and it’s off to a great start!    R- E -S –P- E- C -T – be a part of the story! ■

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