MARTA says it won’t ask for state money until “house is in order”

The transit authority releases 5-year business plan

On Friday afternoon, MARTA unveiled a draft of a five-year plan for how the transit authority can cope with a $30 million operating deficit. Authored by auditing firm KPMG, the “transformation road map” provides guidelines for implementing measures recommended in an audit last year. These include restructuring employee benefits and outsourcing certain business functions—savings that could amount to more than $100 million over five years.

In walking members of the media through the spiral-bound report, Robin Howard, MARTA’s assistant general manager of internal audit, repeatedly emphasized the approach was “not about outsourcing” but was instead a “governance and business transformational opportunity.” While the plan calls for exploring revenue-generating measures such as branded breeze cards and alcohol advertisements, the budget scale is largely tipped by privatizing such functions as payroll and HR, paratransit services, cleaning services, and IT. It also calls for increasing workers’ base pay while decreasing retirement and healthcare benefits, a shift that could attract a younger work force.

Though MARTA has not formally adopted the plan, general manager Keith Parker said the agency’s leadership is “fully committed” to it. Parker, who assumed the GM post in December, spent much of his first weeks on the job introducing himself to power players around the city, including state legislators. He said he assured lawmakers he would not ask for new money from the state until MARTA gets its “fiscal house in order”—which could be years away.

“We will certainly come back to make clear that the agency is worthy of investment and that MARTA should not be the largest transit system in the country that does not receive some level of state funding,” he said.

MARTA is requesting removal of the notorious 50/50 restriction requiring them to set aside 50 percent of sales tax revenue for capital spending. You can read a copy of MARTA’s 2013 legislative agenda here.