January 19, 2009
2009: A Year of Opportunities for Public Transportation
By Beverly A. Scott, Ph.D.
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority
Happy New Year! I say those words with a deeper sincerity this year than in years past. After the devastating hardship of last year’s economic downturn, I genuinely feel great anticipation and excitement with the arrival of 2009 that I have not felt in a long time over the arrival of a new year.
Looking ahead for 2009, I am very hopeful that we will see the dawning of a new era of national importance for public transit all across America. This year, major decisions will be made at all levels—national, state, regional, and local—that will have an impact on public transportation organizations throughout the country:
* How much money will the federal government allocate for public transportation in the next six-year transportation authorization bill?
* How much money will President Obama provide to public transportation in his economic stimulus package?
* Will transit receive a fair share of the allocation?
* What actions will be taken at local levels to increase investment in public transportation infrastructure and services?
The answer to each of these questions is key to our industry and communities of all sizes throughout North America. Because how we manage our systems during this period in time is critical to the outcome, I suggest we stay focused on the things that matter most: performance-driven accountability, safety, reliability, security, and our best in customer service.
For the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), where I serve as general manager and CEO, that means continuing our work to maintain a safe, reliable, and environmentally-friendly system; implementing innovative and prudent business practices; and doing all we can to enhance the overall quality of our services.
Over the course of the past five years, MARTA has participated in an extensive rail car rehabilitation program that has been a critical element of the authority’s emphasis on “state of good repair” and system preservation. For $246 million, MARTA overhauled 218 of its oldest cars. This vitally important capital project was designed to increase service reliability and on-time performance as well as to enhance the overall customer experience.
The savings we received rounded out the beauty of the program. Not only did we increase our safety profile, but we also lowered operations costs and saved money. By refurbishing our rail cars instead of buying new ones at $3 million each, the average cost of a new rail car in 2005, MARTA saved an estimated $448 million. Most importantly, in just this past year, our rail car reliability has improved by over 22 percent, which has contributed to better on-time performance and overall customer satisfaction.
Engineers and rail car specialists from Alstom Transport in Hornell, NY, took each vehicle down to its shell and rebuilt it from the ground up using new components and designs. Each rail car received new brakes and propulsion systems, new communication systems, interior lighting improvements, new stainless steel hand-grabs and refurbished seats, door and climate control system upgrades, easy-to-clean rubberized floors, new equipment and upgrades to the auxiliary electrical system, and a redesigned ergonomically enhanced operator’s cab.
The last renovated rail car was delivered Dec. 31, 2008, and acceptance testing is scheduled for a February completion. MARTA is also preparing to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of its rail service this year. We will also host a rail car symposium to help us look carefully and creatively at our recently approved “Concept 3” 14-county Atlanta regional transit expansion plan, which calls for a $56 billion investment over the next 30 to 50 years. We have invited transit agencies and rail car manufacturers from around the world to join us and our regional partners. We believe this will be a preeminent event featuring inventive and contemporary rail car technologies that will be of specific assistance to policy makers and staff across our region and state.
We plan to let our customers know that traveling on MARTA’s rail system is not only safer, but that we are also doing business in a sensible and cost-conscious manner. The economic challenges of the day not only demand that we do so, they also require a coming together of transportation-oriented agencies and organizations in a new way.
Here in the Atlanta region, new partnerships and coalitions are on the verge of forming, which will transform our region into a world-class transit center. In the first week of 2009, leaders from transportation boards of the metro Atlanta area and the state met for the first time for a constructive conversation on our area’s future transportation outlook, with transit expansion one of the main topics discussed.
Of foremost importance, however, is the need for a unified effort to move our region forward. Without doubt, such unity will be essential to MARTA’s efforts as well as the efforts of other participating agencies to obtain the funding and legislative support necessary to achieving future goals and objectives. We all agree that what’s needed now is an exceptional display of extraordinary leadership on all levels. At MARTA, we are proud that every elected official and leader in our state and region will resolve to do whatever is necessary to protect the interests and well-being of public transportation and our customers.
Nationally, it seems the stage has been set for such relief. As President Obama begins his first term, it is encouraging to know that investments in transportation infrastructure and services are central to the conversations he is having regarding the economic stimulus package he will propose to Congress. It is to be hoped that state and local governments will follow his lead. As I look ahead to the year before us, I have to believe they will.
With ridership numbers up and a growing appreciation for public transit as an essential economic and environmentally friendly component of our nation’s communities, it seems the time is right for a new era to dawn for our industry. As the general manager and CEO of the ninth largest transit agency in America, APTA’s chair, and a passionate proponent of public transit, I commit to doing all that I can to make that happen. I trust our paths will cross as we take up this fight together.
May each of you have a happy and successful New Year!