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Meet Keith T. Parker!

Keith T. Parker, AICP
General Manager/Chief Executive Officer
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA)
Member, APTA Executive Committee; Vice Chair, Rail Transit Committee; Member, Leadership APTA, Bus and Paratransit CEOs, and Legislative committees

How many people are employed at your agency? Please describe its scope.
MARTA is a big agency—the ninth largest in the nation and the largest by far in the southeast. We offer several modes—regular fixed route buses, heavy rail, and paratransit. We carry about 415,000 people a day and upwards of 30 million people a year.

About 4,500 folks work for the agency, not including contractors. Our primary service area encompasses two counties—DeKalb and Fulton—and the city of Atlanta.

How long have you worked in the public transportation industry?
I started as an intern in 1992—22 years ago—for the Greater Richmond Transit Company. I worked in the planning department on matters related to ADA and did some service planning, but I mostly worked on public outreach initiatives with neighborhood and advocacy groups, work that has continued throughout my career.

In one year, I moved to director of planning at the San Joaquin Metropolitan Transit District in Stockton, California, then back to Richmond as director of planning there, with a promotion to deputy CEO. I then moved to C-Tran in Vancouver, Clark County, Washington for my first CEO position. Next I was deputy CEO at the Charlotte Area Transit System and then named CEO there. I also served as CEO of VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio. I’ve been at MARTA since December 2012—about 18 months.

I knew when I walked into my first transit job as an intern that I wanted to lead an agency someday, so I looked for every opportunity to make myself competitive for the top spot.

How long have you been an APTA member?
I’ve been with member systems since those first days in 1992.

What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy the full days transit brings. One of my very best days ever occurred while I was in Charlotte. As deputy CEO, I helped develop a downtown trolley service by brokering a P3 that attracted the buy-in of many of the city’s multinational corporations—Wachovia, Bell South, Bank of America, and so on. We brokered the deal at a lunchtime event on the penthouse floor of Bank of America, which was attended by prominent corporate leaders and the “fine wine and cheese” crowd.

Later that evening, I had a meeting with a group of riders who had previously experienced brain injuries. It was held in a dilapidated gym, and some people brought a few bags of cookies and chips to share. That discussion was all about them asking me to not raise their fares or cut their service.

The reality and the rewards of transit come in those “Kipling moments”: You can walk with the kings but not lose touch with the common folk. That’s the range of people transit touches.

What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource? Which one helps you do your job?
I appreciate the peer review program and I’ve used it extensively. We’ve already had four since I’ve been here at MARTA. I find them extremely valuable for three reasons:

First, the quality of work our peers bring to the program is outstanding. The people APTA sends out to do assessments are tremendous. Second, the reviews are affordably priced. I always get a great product for a relatively modest fee. And third, the reviews expose my team to people in the industry who become part of their career network and benefit them for years to come. It’s a great resource, and we’ll continue to use it.

What is unique about your agency? What would readers be surprised to learn?
I think it’s that MARTA is successful despite enormous limitations. The greater Atlanta area is made up of 18 counties, but we only serve two, plus the city.

There are historical barriers to supporting and appreciating the value public transit provides that make for a very difficult environment. Despite all that, as I mentioned, we carry some 415,000 people a day. Also, MARTA is fiscally sound and we’ve dramatically improved service, undeterred by this legacy and history of severe roadblocks.

This year, MARTA is celebrating its 35th anniversary of combined bus and rail ­service. We know that our best days are in front of us, and we are dedicated to ­providing safe, reliable service to the Atlanta region.
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