When she first came to MARTA, Scott said, “My No. 1 goal is to ensure that MARTA is a premier transit system — one that provides safe, reliable, clean and courteous service to our customers.” I asked her about this quote and what steps she had taken to make MARTA a premier system. Scott said it started on day one with two letters to the employees that established the vision she had for MARTA, to be the No. 1 system in the United States.
“It’s about what are your expectation levels relative to the standards that you want. And I am truly a person who believes that if you are not shooting for A, you’re not going to get it,” Scott says.
She also set about establishing the basic issues she planned to address and how they would be handled within her tenure at MARTA.
“You have to be very clear about what are the values that are going to drive the organization,” Scott says.
“The two sets of communiqué that I did to employees backed up by town hall meetings was to say this is what’s the vision. And let me kind of give you a little bit of not 10 commandments, but pretty much like that, and then some very basic areas like just fairness and equity and transparency in terms of how I like to get out in the field and talk with folks.
“We are an industry of big things that move, but the bottom line is it’s all about people. And that’s people both externally and internally.”
Scott says she’s a person who likes to run her system by the number. “There’s always the soft side of things, but I’m a Dave Gun baby, OK. So issues and terms, state of good repair, fix it first, your best marketing is the product you’re putting out today.”
Transit’s Dirty Little Secret
Even before her first day on the job at MARTA, Scott has eyed the people running the system as the key to its success. She says her big focus when it comes to employees is availability and that may just be the seamy underbelly of the transit industry.
“What I call the dirty little secret of transit, and it’s not just public transit, but transit. And I think it’s a combination of many things. I think it’s a combination of just the differences in the work force. We are not a very family-friendly — just traditionally — work environment,” Scott says.
“People gotta work. If we’re not there then folks are depending on us and because we are 24/7 operations, it is what it is. And then when you look at the change in the household composition. I mean people on both ends, you’ve got single parents and then on top of that you have people who have issues in terms of elder care.
“So I mean it’s just a whole lot of things going on, but at the end of the day we are what we are. It’s the work we’ve chosen to do. So all of those kinds of issues are just significant in terms of employee availability.”
Scott says she looks at labor as a partner and anyone who can’t work with them is probably not the right person to have in that job. Scott says labor is part of her world because her people are members of those unions, but first they are her employees. She wants to do the right thing with them, not as part of a bargaining process or because she is put in a position where she has to, but because it’s the right thing to do.
“The better that I think you can have that as being a constructive relationship as opposed to having it be adversarial meaning … we got processes, we should both be focused on some of the same big things. The better this organization does, the better [the labor unions] do in terms of membership and profile and stature. It certainly doesn’t help [them] if we’re not doing well,” Scott says.
Every year Mass Transit runs a readership survey to get a snapshot of what’s currently on the mind of our readers and by association, the transit industry itself. One question we ask as part of this is for people to rank the critical issues facing their transit agencies. Historically, funding has always been either the top or second from top critical issue on the minds of our readers. But MARTA’s Scott thinks funding should be taken off the list not because it’s not critical, but because it always will be.
“Funding is always a critical issue. So I kind of take that one and rather put it to the side because if you let yourself get twisted around, ‘Oh I can only do this when I in fact wind up getting more funding,’ then this is not the business that you need to be in,” Scott says.