The first words out of MARTA Board Chairman Robert “Robbie” Ashe III’s mouth was a disclaimer to the members of the Douglas County Chamber on Tuesday.
He said, “I’m not here to tell you how to grow. I’m not here to tell you that you need to bring in MARTA.”
Ashe was keynote speaker Tuesday at the Douglas County Chamber GreyStone Power Luncheon. The focus of his speech was the future of transportation in metro Atlanta.
An Atlanta attorney, Ashe has served on the board of directors for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) since 2010 and he currently serves as chairman of the board.
He said that MARTA is the eighth largest transit system in the U.S. and serves 450,000 riders daily. Currently, MARTA has contractual agreements with the city of Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties, where it is supported by 1 to 1 1/2 cent sales taxes.
The transit system cost per trip compares favorably with other major systems at $2.06 and 0.19 cent per mile.
And MARTA has become fiscally sound with a hefty cash reserve.
“We’ve gone for the fifth year with a budget surplus and with a quarter-billion in cash reserves,” he said. “We’ve had no fare increase for the fourth year. We have made service additives and major capital expenditures for the state of good repair.”
“We work hard to make sure we remain affordable,” Ashe said. “We are trying to get out of the reasons people do not want MARTA. We have minimized negative headlines by getting our house in order.”
MARTA has been replacing entire bus fleets, with cameras in and outside all of the buses and on trains.
Ashe told the chamber members and guests that MARTA Police has been ranked the second safest system in North America.
He said that MARTA’s “Ride with Respect” program — its new code of conduct — which he referred to as “no knuckle head behavior” — is working because it enforces the law. So far, 44,000 riders have been suspended from riding the system.
“We have very few repeat offenders,” Ashe said.
He said that students who are coming out of Georgia Tech want transit and see it as part of their daily lives. Ashe said major companies, such as Mercedes Benz and State Farm Insurance, made having a transit system a determining factor in moving to metro Atlanta.
MARTA as a transit authority, owns a large amount of land, Ashe said, and is working on doing “transit-oriented development.
“With partners, we use our land for long-term development around those transit centers,” said Ashe, “and we are creating additional activities around our stations and increasing green space.”
Working with Atlanta Falcons owner and Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank, MARTA has built an indoor soccer complex at the Five Points MARTA station. MARTA has also partnered with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to offer Fresh Markets at some of the stations.
He said they are also working with other transportation outlets, such as Uber and Lyft, for ridesharing.
“In the next two or three years, there will be a lot more you can do with a mobility app," he said. "You tell us where you want to go and we’ll give you options.”
He said that MARTA is trying to do away with the one-size-fits-all concept.
“Our goal is that on certain routes, we will have a vehicle that can deviate from the route to pick a person up or route for a mobility solution.”
Ashe said, “We are at the cutting edge of transit systems and as early as in 2018, people can use their smartphones to get on MARTA and can manage their accounts.”
He said that people might be able to swipe their phone to get on our system for game-day access to Mercedes Benz stadium or for heavy travel days such as during the annual Peachtree Road Race on the Fourth of July.