MARTA names new CEO for an era of expansion

The MARTA board agreed Thursday to remove "interim" from the title of CEO Collie Greenwood. Greenwood has led the transit agency since the January death of the previous CEO, Jeffrey Parker.

Credit: David Wickert

Credit: David Wickert

The MARTA board agreed Thursday to remove "interim" from the title of CEO Collie Greenwood. Greenwood has led the transit agency since the January death of the previous CEO, Jeffrey Parker.

MARTA has chosen its interim CEO to lead the transit agency into a new era of expansion.

The agency’s board agreed Thursday to hire Collie Greenwood, a 35-year transit veteran who joined MARTA three years ago. Greenwood has led the agency on an interim basis since the previous chief executive, Jeffrey Parker, died by suicide in January.

Board members said Greenwood is the right candidate to lead MARTA at a pivotal moment in its history. And Greenwood vowed to deliver various transit projects already under development to build credibility as it pursues future projects.

“People have to understand that there’s a limited bandwidth, and we want to focus that bandwidth on those projects that we’ve already reached an agreement on,” Greenwood told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And I believe that 2024, ‘25, ‘26, there’s some (completion) dates that are looming. MARTA’s credibility will be enhanced when we make good on those promises.”

Greenwood inherits an agency on the verge of its most significant expansion in a generation. In recent years, voters in Atlanta and Clayton County have approved new transit sales taxes. With that money, MARTA plans to build new transit lines in both jurisdictions.

In Atlanta, it’s building bus rapid transit lines along Hank Aaron Drive/Capitol Avenue and Campbellton Road. It’s also planning an Atlanta Streetcar extension, a new transit line along the Clifton Corridor to the Emory University area and transit on the Atlanta Beltline.

In Clayton County, MARTA plans bus rapid transit lines from College Park to Southlake Mall and from East Point to Jonesboro and Lovejoy.

Over the long term, MARTA also could add bus rapid transit lines along Ga. 400, the top half of the Perimeter and elsewhere.

But Greenwood may face tough choices about which projects proceed as planned. Already, unexpected costs and inflation have led to a 49% increase in the price of the Summerhill line along Hank Aaron Drive/Capitol Avenue.

Greenwood said MARTA will focus on completing projects already underway while continuing community conversations about other projects such as transit on the Atlanta Beltline. He said concerns about whether MARTA can deliver all the projects it has planned should ease as projects come online.

Greenwood joined MARTA in 2019 as chief of bus operations and urban planning. He previously was the chief service officer for the Toronto Transit Commission, where he oversaw bus, subway, streetcar and other operations. He also led the agency through station transformations, consolidation of paratransit services and a reduction in overtime costs.

Less than a year after he arrived at MARTA, bus service was transformed by the coronavirus pandemic. To encourage social distancing, the agency eliminated most of its bus routes and increased service on the remaining routes. It didn’t restore all routes for a year.

Last year, MARTA reduced the frequency of most of its routes amid staffing shortages. It still has not restored full service. The agency now is redesigning its entire bus service — a move that could mean more frequent service on fewer routes.

Along the way, Greenwood’s role at MARTA has changed. In 2020 Parker appointed him deputy general manager of operations and urban planning. And the board named him interim general manager and CEO in January after Parker’s death.

In the top job, Greenwood has navigated difficult political decisions, such as MARTA’s selection of bus rapid transit instead of light rail for Campbellton Road. After an initial backlash, the agency spent months assuring residents and city leaders the line would provide premium transit service — not just another bus line.

He faced a similar challenge to convince Clayton County officials that rapid buses were the best option after plans for commuter rail to Jonesboro and Lovejoy fell apart last year. County officials recently urged MARTA to go with bus rapid transit.

A MARTA board committee spent months searching for a permanent CEO. It identified 11 candidates and interviewed five of them. But earlier this month the committee announced it was recommending Greenwood as the sole finalist.

On Thursday, board members cited Greenwood’s transit experience and his leadership of MARTA this year. They also urged him to pick up the pace on delivering projects through the More MARTA program, a $2.7 billion, 40-year expansion plan that calls for a mixture of light rail, bus rapid transit lines, arterial rapid transit routes and other improvements, including the renovation of existing rail stations.

“Back in 2016, the voters of the city of Atlanta approved a half-cent sales tax,” board member Robbie Ashe told Greenwood. “And we need to make more progress on More MARTA than we have in the prior six years, and we need to do that soon.”