MARTA restores services, cuts wait time as ridership increases

12/20/2013, 6 a.m.
MARTA CEO Keith Parker says more people are riding the transit system’s trains and buses, and services that had been cut to reduce expenses are being restored.

For the first time in six years, ridership on MARTA is up, and 13 of the system’s 76 public restrooms are open again.

This was some of the good news that MARTA CEO Keith Parker shared with 70 stakeholders on Dec. 13, which was also the first anniversary of his arrival at the transit system.

Parker said that the slight uptick came in the first quarter of the 2014 fiscal year, which started July 1.

“We want to build on that so we want to give people who’ve abandoned us a reason to come back and we want to give our existing customers a more pleasant ride,” he said.

Parker was delivering his first State of MARTA speech in the transit agency’s headquarters in Buckhead.

He said savings from budget cuts have yielded a $9 million surplus, which allows the system to begin restoring some of the services it cut in 2010 to save money on cleaning staff and security patrols during the height of the economic recession.

On Dec. 14, MARTA workers reopened public restrooms at the Avondale, Kensington, Peachtree Center and West End rail stations, which were closed in September 2010 to help balance the fiscal 2011 operating budget of $389.64 million. With nine other restrooms – Bankhead, College Park, Doraville, Edgewood/Candler Park, Five Points, Hamilton E. Holmes, Indian Creek, Lindbergh and North Springs – that never closed, there are now 13 restrooms open.

Civil rights leaders say that is not enough for a system that has 38 rail stations and carries about 227,000 train passengers daily.

Nathan Knight, president of the DeKalb chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has been pressing MARTA to reopen all its restrooms for the convenience of its patrons.

He said Thursday that they won’t rest until all restrooms are open at all stations that have them.

“They’re violating the federal persons with disabilities act of 1990 that says public transportation facilities have to provide proper restroom facilities along with ramps for the disabled,” Knight said.

The SCLC, which had picketed MARTA over the restroom closures, called off demonstrations outside MARTA headquarters and transit stations over the summer while leaders negotiated with MARTA.

“They told us they’d issue a plan to open all of them and that we would be part of the process,” Knight said. “That didn’t happen.”

He said they were planning to resume demonstrations on Dec. 19.

Despite the dispute with the SCLC, Parker said there are plenty of reasons for MARTA to be optimistic.

“We’re taking the savings that we were able to realize and invest it back in our customers,” he said. “We’re not restoring all the service at once, but we are going to be selectively targeting several areas for improvements.”

After cutting $132.8 million from its FY 2011 budget, MARTA cut 40 bus lines, including 11 routes in DeKalb, causing wait times to go up and ridership to go down.

But Parker told stakeholders on Dec. 13 that those services also will be restored.

A study is under way to determine which lines will be brought back and when.