As chair of MARTA’s board of directors, I want to share the truth about MARTA’s operations and efforts during last week’s crippling snow storm. Below is the full text of a letter submitted to the Atlanta Journal Constitution by MARTA’s CEO, Beverly Scott, that sets the record straight with our valued customers, employees and the public.
– Jim Durrett
Letter to the Editor
By Dr. Beverly A. Scott
By all accounts, last week’s extraordinary weather conditions and associated public safety impacts were the most severe our region has experienced in years. For all of us, there are lessons to be learned and improvements to be made – individually and collectively.
At the same time, there were exceptional efforts made by many, many people that should not be overlooked in the rush to place blame and sell newspapers.
As MARTA’s CEO, I found the AJC story “MARTA’s Storm Response Leaves Passengers in Doubt,” sadly ironic – but not surprising. While the AJC was unfairly criticizing MARTA for suspending bus service, the newspaper’s management was apologizing for customer delivery failures during the same severe winter storm.
Moreover, the story was an extremely incomplete, one-sided and naive account of the extraordinary effort that hundreds of MARTA employees made – across all levels and departments – to keep our regional transit system operational.
For example, MARTA opened its Emergency Operations Center and began storm preparations well before the snow started on Sunday. Earlier, MARTA participated in a regional conference hosted by the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency. During the emergency, MARTA had a representative serving at Atlanta’s Joint Operations Center. In addition, we were in regular contact with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).
MARTA supervisors worked overnight to monitor road conditions as the storm began. We proactively closed the ramp entrances to the North Springs (GA 400 entrance) and Indian Creek (I-285 entrance) stations because these areas are prone to freezing and vehicles have previously gotten stuck during inclement winter weather. MARTA provided alternate directions to access these stations and GDOT assisted us in this important communications effort with their electronic signage. Beginning Sunday, we distributed regular updates to the public via our website, customer service line, Twitter, Facebook, service alert messages and press releases.
Our MARTA Mobility team worked with our extremely vulnerable paratransit customers and medical facilities to arrange emergency transportation for life-sustaining medical treatment. On Friday before the storm, Mobility proactively coordinated with dialysis centers to reschedule 52 customers from Monday to Sunday dialysis trips.
At the highest levels, the City of Atlanta staff worked with our team to clear priority streets. Finally, Mayor Kasim Reed and I spoke several times to review MARTA’s status and ensure that the public was receiving the best available information on MARTA operations.
As a public transit veteran of more than 30 years, I could not have been prouder of our employees, many of whom worked around the clock and were unable to get home for several days.
I am especially proud of the steady, experienced hand of our senior management team whose long years of operating transit systems in severe winter environments has taught them the difference between foolhardiness and ensuring public safety for customers, employees and the community at large.
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, MARTA rail provided 36,000, 50,000 and 84,000 passenger trips, respectively. On Wednesday, MARTA was the first transit operator to restore limited bus and paratransit service. Be assured that stopping bus and paratransit service was not an easy decision, but it was the right decision under the circumstances.
Throughout this winter storm, our foremost priority has been safety. With that in mind, we heeded the emergency declaration by the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia warning drivers to stay off the roadways.
We asked our employees to remain home if they were unable to travel safely and we kept buses off the streets on Monday and Tuesday. It would have been irresponsible and reckless for MARTA to add its fleet of 40-foot buses to the region’s already treacherous traffic conditions.
At MARTA, we are acutely aware of how much “MARTA Matters” to the overall Atlanta region as an irreplaceable lifeline and invaluable part of the economic engine that moves our capital city, region, and State. Hopefully, the AJC has now gained a better appreciation and greater respect for the importance of the work MARTA employees and other local transit operators do every day.