The chairman of the state’s MARTA Oversight Committee told constituents that the cash-strapped transit agency has made major improvements.
“MARTA has turned it fiscal ship around. MARTA is operating in the black again,” said Rep. Mike Jacobs, (R-Brookhaven).
Jacobs joined fellow DeKalb County Republican Sen. Fran Millar, (R-Dunwoody), for a town hall meeting at Chamblee First United Methodist Church on March 10.
Jacobs said two house bills he introduced last year recommending changes to MARTA – HB 264 and HB 265 – will go forward without mandates to implement recommendations from a recent audit of the transit system.
The audit recommended measures to cut costs, including outsourcing some functions, including payroll. Jacobs said MARTA’s CEO and General Manager Keith Parker has already accomplished many of the recommendations.
“Keith Parker is doing it on his own,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said he would like to amend the bills to include changes to the composition of the MARTA board of directors to include two seats for the mayors of north Fulton cities and one appointment for the mayor of a north DeKalb city.
“The board composition is important for our community,” Jacobs said. “It really goes to the heart of how our community is represented on major transportation.”
The bills were approved in the House of Representatives last year and are awaiting deliberation in the Senate this session.
Both Millar and Jacobs heaped praise upon Parker, who took over as head of MARTA in 2012.
“We’re pretty excited about working with this guy,” Millar said. “I’ve been at this 16 years. There’s not a lot of people I’ve been excited about working with at MARTA.”
Jacobs said he is hopeful Parker will stay to lead MARTA for many more years.
“We are due for a truly transformational leader at MARTA. Keith Parker could very well be that person,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said the next goal is to make it easier to plan trips using different regional transit options, such as MARTA, Cobb Community Transit and Gwinnett County Transit. Currently, there’s no single web site that can be used to access schedules and routes for all the transit systems in the metro area.
“Ultimately, maybe this will be headed toward a rebranding effort,” Jacobs said.
Millar said he hopes the use of security cameras will help people feel safer riding MARTA.
“We have cameras on every bus. There’s going to be cameras on every train,” Millar said. “It cost $15 million, but guess what? We need to increase ridership.”
Millar said MARTA is crucial to the future economic success of the Atlanta area.
“We have to have regional transit. No doubt about it,” Millar said. “For us to continue to be a beacon of the South, we’ve got to get people to work.”
The state legislators also weighed in on the debate over Common Core, the new national curriculum standards that have been implemented in Georgia schools.
“Is it perfect? No. But I believe in national standards,” Millar said. “Last time I checked the SAT is a national standard.”
One of the issues opponents of Common Core have raised is the high cost of the testing materials.
“We’re not leaving ‘common’ in my opinion. But I do think the assessment piece down the road is going to have some issues,” Millar said.
Jacobs said the curriculum hasn’t been an issue among his constituents. He said his children, who attend Montgomery Elementary School in Brookhaven, are learning the Common Core curriculum this year.
“They use Common Core and the teachers like it,” Jacobs said. “It is a rigorous curriculum. If teachers like it, then it’s the right thing. Period. End of story,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs also answered questions about recently approved legislation that would end litigation over the Century Center office complex.
Two bills defined the borders of the cities of Brookhaven and Chamblee to reinforce the results of a 2013 referendum that annexed the property into the city of Chamblee. Highwoods Properties, the owners of Century Center, had worked to be annexed into the city of Brookhaven and appealed to the courts.
“Highwoods Properties said nothing – nothing – throughout the 2013 legislative session,” Jacobs said. “I don’t have a problem with Highwoods Properties expressing itself. But the time to do that was during the time the Chamblee annexation bill was going through the legislative process.”