Dr. Beverly Scott, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) CEO and current American Public Transportation Association (APTA) chair, isn’t what you would expect from someone in her position. As we sat down for the interview, she told me a story about her granddaughter trick-or-treating and it was exactly what you would expect from someone’s beloved grandmother. Not exactly what I had pictured for someone who has worked in some of the toughest places for transit in the United States, including New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
But it’s just that, her charming and disarming demeanor, as well as a grizzled veteran’s knowledge of transit’s innerworkings, that makes her so successful. Scott is a “let’s get to it” type of person — even in an interview — quickly telling me she knows I know all about her history, so let’s just talk about how she came to Atlanta. And much like Shakespeare’s Henry V, one of Scott’s first actions was to go among the troops and see what they were like even as they remained unaware of her true identity.
Before accepting the job as MARTA CEO, Scott came to Atlanta to meet with the board and decided she needed to get out on the system as she hadn’t been on it in years.
“Nobody knew who I was. So I got on the system, got out to the airport, nicest lady, Miss Tamara, nicest lady. I mean she’s showing me how to do … and I’m acting real stupid you know, I’m saying how do you tap and how do you do this,” Scott says.
After getting on the system, she decided the next place she had to see was “Big Bad Five Points [station], because Five Points is the Five Points.
“So I just had surgery in July. So I was coming down the stairs and swear to God this supervisor … once again, now remember it’s hot, it’s Atlanta, OK … Mr. Randall Robinson. I come down the stairs and I was holding onto the handrail just taking one step at a time. And he walked behind me, and when I got to the platform, because I guess I looked a little unsteady, he said, ‘Are you doing all right? I didn’t want to make you nervous. You OK?’ I was just playing with him, I said, ‘I’m just doing fine,’ I said I really appreciate it. I’m just moving along, a little old grandmother.”
Her undercover trip on the system let Scott see what she calls absolutely wonderful employees and she took the position when she met with the board later that day.
MARTA has had its share of bad press. But while other transit agencies may claim the local media targets them more often than they should, it may have just been the case.
“Believe me I have no issue in terms of if an agency is deserving of it, take the hit. But when it simply becomes fawn sport,” Scott says, “when it simply becomes, you know, we got nobody better to hit on, so let’s just kick MARTA.”
Scott says some of the press coverage of MARTA was deserved and some wasn’t but what was interesting to her was the fact that in a region that clearly needs more transit, the image wasn’t the best. And image is important to a transit authority because unless you’re in a major urban area like New York, most of the people being asked to support a system are never going to use it.
“And so you know that on the one hand absolutely your customers are your heart and your soul. But your broader community at every point is as well,” Scott says.
“You know if you’re lucky maybe you wind up consistently being able to have 25 to 30 percent of a market, but many, many people are never going to wind up using the service.
“So anyway, one of the biggest challenges over the past year and I will say probably over the next several years will be not just for MARTA but honestly trying to help to raise the image and just the perspective, the general perspective, in terms of public transit.”