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Opinion: MARTA won for Atlanta on Super Bowl weekend

The New England Patriots went home with the Lombardi Trophy, but Team MARTA emerged victorious.

Our transit system more than doubled its ridership during the three-day period that included Super Bowl Sunday as thousands of visitors and fans voted with their feet – and with their MARTA Breeze cards.

With trains running 24-7, savvy travelers avoided traffic and pricey parking lots and took MARTA in record numbers before, during, and after the big game. The Super Bowl was an opportunity for all of Atlanta to shine in the eyes of the world and we knew we had a significant role to play in that. I am incredibly proud that our team stepped up to deliver on this biggest of stages.

Granted, there were setbacks. An out-of-service train derailed near the airport about two weeks before the game and we had some labor challenges.

While others worried, MARTA moved the disabled train and restored rail service without compromising safety. Our team rose to the occasion to deliver phenomenal rail service that minimized the adverse impact on customers who depend on us.

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Overall, MARTA’s Super Bowl performance caps a string of recent mega-events that again prove the value of a robust transit system capable of moving large crowds quickly, efficiently, and safely.

But that’s only one reason to celebrate.

Last month, during the annual State of MARTA event, I challenged the business, political, and civic community to strive for an ambitious but achievable goal: securing $100 billion in funding for transit and technology improvements to ensure the prosperity and vitality of metro Atlanta’s fast-growing region over the next 40 years.

Since then, I’ve been encouraged by the positive reactions to my speech from others who understand that our region’s traffic-choked status quo is a dead end. By matching our aspirations to reliable funding sources, metro Atlanta’s future will someday include fleets of new transit vehicles, gleaming rail stations and bus facilities, and cutting-edge innovations that offer residents and visitors world-class mobility options.

MARTA is committed to playing a key role in working with our member jurisdictions and partner transportation agencies to forge the types of major capital and infrastructure improvements that are critical to keeping our region moving forward.

At the same time, MARTA is also keenly focused on cultivating “human capital” to deepen and strengthen relationships with our employees, our customers, and the communities we proudly serve. That’s why we’re establishing a new position – the Chief Customer Experience Officer – that will be charged with addressing riders’ concerns and engaging them in ongoing and meaningful conversations about how we can do better.

MARTA is also launching a Riders Advisory Council that will be composed of diverse stakeholders who can provide us with invaluable, real-world input on upgrading the quality of our transit services. MARTA bus service, in particular, will constantly evolve to meet the needs of customers.

The heart-and-soul of MARTA’s operations are the frontline employees who interact with customers. We want our employees to feel a sense of pride and ownership, so we’re taking steps to improve pay and opportunities for specialized training to advance their careers. Across the board, it’s imperative for MARTA to recruit, train, and retain top talent.

In marking MARTA’s 40th anniversary as a combined bus-and-rail system this year, we salute the often-unsung visionaries in state government and from our founding jurisdictions – Fulton and DeKalb counties and the City of Atlanta – whose foresight and fortitude made our transit system a reality.

We also honor the invaluable contributions and guidance we’ve received from our most recent jurisdictional partners in Clayton County, and look forward to the March 19 ballot referendum when Gwinnett County voters will decide whether to join the MARTA system.

The Atlanta region is on the verge of making the largest investment in transit and technology since MARTA’s inception. But let’s be clear; it will take more than money to get where we need to go. As we stand at history’s doorstep, I’m inviting the next generation of visionary leaders to work with MARTA to help us move into scoring position.

The lesson from Super Bowl LIII is that transit was the smart way to travel because parking was astronomical and streets were clogged with cars. As our region’s population continues to grow, we will see more of that. The solution then, as it was during Super Bowl weekend, will be more transit. It is time to invest in the winning strategy that brings continued economic growth and prosperity in metro Atlanta and beyond.

Jeffrey A. Parker is MARTA’s General Manager and CEO.

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