In case you haven’t heard yet, MARTA is now open for business.
Of course, MARTA remains dedicated to its core mission of providing quality bus, rail and paratransit service to the metro Atlanta region as we’ve done for the past 34 years.
We also realize MARTA has an obligation – and an opportunity – to collaborate more closely with the private sector and other stakeholders to reposition the transit system for future growth and expansion.
And that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Earlier this month, for example, MARTA teamed up with the Atlanta Regional Commission to host Development Day at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference center in Midtown. The event attracted about 250 residential and commercial developers, architects, engineers, local officials and the general public.
The participants learned about partnering with MARTA as we implement plans to convert acres of underutilized real estate we own near rail stations into transit-oriented developments, or TODs.
Cities such as Denver, Charlotte, Portland and Washington D.C. are also making investments in TODs by building communities which seamlessly mesh multifamily residential and retail complexes with existing or planned transit stations.
Many real estate experts predict that a larger proportion of future development will take place in, and around transit centers as a result of shifting demographics and growing concerns about the environment and quality of life. TODs are already gaining traction in other auto-centric communities similar to our own, including Los Angeles and Phoenix.
Reconnecting America, a national nonprofit group that advocates for coordinated land use and transportation options, estimates that the number of U.S. households located near transit stations will increase from six million today to as may as 15 million by 2030.
Because MARTA began laying the groundwork for its TOD program during the depths of the recession, we are now poised to take advantage of the next real estate development cycle. We have published comprehensive plans for all 38 MARTA stations and we are drafting a five-year strategic plan for future TOD projects.
Our ambitious yet realistic goal is to work with private investors, lenders and developers to initiate five TOD projects in the next two years.
The first stations on MARTA’s TOD list are King Memorial in downtown Atlanta and Avondale in Decatur. Next in line are MARTA-owned sites at Abernathy Road and GA 400; Brookhaven/Oglethorpe University; Edgewood/Candler Park; and Lindbergh Center.
MARTA also hosted a small business information day that drew 175 local business owners to MARTA headquarters. A diverse group of entrepreneurs raised questions and concerns about doing business with MARTA; they also learned how to become registered vendors and got information about the insurance requirements small businesses must satisfy to participate in our upcoming procurement opportunities and long-term capital projects.
In addition to TODs and other brick-and-mortar projects, MARTA is expanding its footprint in the digital domain.
Metro Atlanta is home to a robust, fast-growing community of high-tech companies, researchers, web-based startups and mobile app developers with whom MARTA is openly sharing our transit system data and other resources.
MARTA staff worked with this community on two recent events – Transportation Camp South and the Atlanta Cleanweb Hackathon – which focused on technology and new media platforms, such as crowd-sourcing, which can be used to address difficult business problems quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.
These initiatives, and others still in the pipeline, are only the beginning. MARTA is exploring other untapped sources of potential revenue and cost-savings – such as non-traditional advertising, in-station concessions and outsourcing – which can benefit MARTA’s existing customers while helping us attract new ones.
The reality is that conventional funding for all transit systems has become more challenging in recent years. That’s why MARTA is committed to finding innovative ways of improving our bottom line while upholding our historic commitment to improving the community we serve.