[Carfreeliving] Nat Ford
jhenders at sbcglobal.net
Fri Nov 18 14:49:07 MST 2005
MARTA is more fiscally constrained than MUNI. MARTA gets no state aid,
and is operating in an extremely anti-transit climate. When Ford became
general manager of MARTA there was a lot of controversy about rail
expansion versus bus (similar to Los Angeles). In 2001 the MARTA board
raised the fare to $1.75 from $1.50, making MARTA the most expensive
transit system in the US at the time (it might still be for flat fares?).
The fare increase came just as the north line extension was completed,
and the transit agency had a deficit. For many transit-dependent African
Americans, the fare increase was seen as inequitable because the
deficits stemmed mostly from a new rail extension to the affluent, white
north side of Fulton County, while service in black areas had remained
stagnant. This issue goes back to the one Kain (1996) raised in an
article in /Journal of Transport Economics/. Kain argues it was a
mistake to build rail in Atlanta, and that it sucked bus ridership to
rail, and led to all of the things you are probably familiar with
regarding Los Angeles rail versus bus.
Of course Ford had little to do with building rail, he inherited it. So
he was hired to sort out a mess (he came from within MARTA management,
so was already known). I think he was chosen to lead because he focused
on "cleaning up" crime, trash, and focusing on simply operating the
system, rather than expansion, etc. He had similar ideas to Guliani's
quality of life pogrom in NYC.
To be fair, Ford did take 2-weeks unpaid leave. But he was also
enthusiastic about ugly wrapped ads that lower the dignity of transit
(IMO) and he put nasty ads in the train tunnels. The MARTA board raised
some parking fees for airport parkers at MARTA stations, but did not
want to raise parking fees for daily commuters (they park free).
In Atlanta the MARTA board tends to get more media attention than its
general manager when it comes to cuts, fare increases, etc (Unlike here,
where it seemed that Burns got singled-out). So the problem in Atlanta
was seen as more structural than just one general manager. To my
knowledge there was never an anti-Ford rhetoric as there was an
anti-Burns rhetoric last spring. However, Ford did get a lot of scrutiny
over lavish spending on office remodeling, trips for management to
conferences, etc, while the system was flailing and people got laid off,
routes cut. He had to write an embarrassing defense in an op ed in the
/Atlanta Constitution/ in 2003. (I pasted it below)
I get the sense that a MUNI director has a lot more power and influence
than a MARTA director. But the question I have is how respected and
popular is Ford among transit advocates in Atlanta? My biggest question
is – why does he want to leave Atlanta? Is he in trouble? Is he
unpopular? Or is he giving up on Georgia's backwards transportation
policies (especially funding) and just trying to work in an environment
that is more transit-friendly, despite all the problems?
[ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 02/07/03]
*MARTA seeking to use public money efficiently*
By NATHANIEL P. FORD
Recently, there have been questions in the media about MARTA's spending.
Clearly, the public deserves to know the facts.
We have been good stewards of the public's investment in this $4 billion
transportation system. We have made decisions based on the best
information we had at the time and in the best interests of the
authority and the riding public.
I am keenly aware of the sensitivity of the issues raised in these
reports. Rest assured that we continue to look at ways to minimize
expenses while striving to provide the most cost-efficient, reliable
There have been suggestions that the authority be audited. The federal
government conducts audits of MARTA on a regular basis. We have
consistently passed these audits and set the standard for transit
We recently went through a comprehensive management audit conducted by
the firm Booz-Allen-Hamilton. This audit was required by the Georgia
The report identified MARTA as a leader in the transit industry and
highlighted areas where we provide better service, more efficiently,
than our peers. It also indicated areas that need improvement. We
recognize and accept these challenges and have begun to address many of
In the current economic climate, MARTA, like many other business and
government entities has done some tough belt-tightening. Just recently,
we were able to rein in a nearly $30 million deficit by implementing
cost-containment measures that included furloughs, early retirement and
other spending restrictions. Some of our decisions were difficult and
unpopular. Nonunion employees, including myself, took two weeks nonpaid
furloughs last year for savings of some $1.3 million.
Our health and wellness program has been scrutinized in these news
reports. For a total cost of under $100,000, we have reinvested in the
health and well-being of staff by hiring a company that is conducting
nutrition, weight management, physical training and stress reduction
exercises for senior staff, rail and bus operators.
This physical training helps to reduce stress, curtail absenteeism and
drive down skyrocketing insurance rates. This is money well spent.
Questions have also been raised as to the number of employees who
attended the American Public Transportation Association Conference and
Expo last fall. This is held only once every three years. Attendance is
important to view new equipment and technologies and exchange ideas with
other transit professionals.
Aside from staff attendance, it is our long-standing practice to send
our bus "roadeo" winners and their spouses to this national competition.
Despite our difficult economic climate, the decision was made to
continue this practice for staff morale. Several staff members were
presenters and or speakers at the conference and their attendance was
Certain expenses are part of doing the business of this organization. It
is important to maintain perspective. We are entrusted with more than $4
billion of public assets and a yearly budget approaching $1 billion. I
am sensitive to the issues raised regarding my business expenses and
understand the public's concern. Rest assured staff and I are committed
to be vigilant and prudent stewards of the taxpayers' considerable
We must maintain focus. This organization has had a number of
well-documented successes the past year, including: new clean air buses,
completion of our enhanced bus service, a program of rail car
rehabilitation, opening of phase one of the Lindbergh City Center
transit-oriented development, installation of bike racks on buses and
the opening of the Windward Parkway Park and Ride lot, to mention a few.
We are proud of our achievements. We will continue to look at ways to
streamline our operating expenses. We are proud of the men and women of
We have some tough days ahead as we grapple with the economic challenges
faced by us all. We embrace these challenges and assure the public that
at every level of this authority we will be pulling together to continue
to serve this region's transit needs.
Tom Radulovich wrote:
>Attached is a link a profile of Nat Ford that appeared in Mass
>Transit Magazine ("Better Transit through Better Management"): http://
>Transportation for a Livable City
>995 Market Street Suite 1550
>San Francisco CA 94103
>tom at livablecity.org
>Carfreeliving at livablecity.org mailing list
>to facilitate and promote car-free living in SF
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San Francisco CA
jhenders at sbcglobal.net
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