Alumni Star: Keith T. Parker, AICP
Keith T. Parker, a Wilder School MURP graduate, leads the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and is a nationally recognized leader in the public transit industry.
While serving as president of VCU’s Urban and Regional Planning Student Association, Keith T. Parker, AICP, invited Michael Townes, then-CEO of the Hampton Roads Transit system, to speak at the group’s annual conference. That connection led Parker to his first position in the public transit industry as senior planner with the San Joaquin Metropolitan Transit District in Stockton, Calif.
“He became my adviser and recommended me for the position,” Parker said of Townes.
Parker’s career since that break-in role has included public- and private-sector experiences in diverse communities in Virginia, California, Washington, North Carolina, Texas and, most recently, Georgia. Parker, who earned his bachelor’s degree from VCU in 1990 and his Master of Urban and Regional Planning at the VCU Wilder School in 1993, was recognized as a 2015 Alumni Star by VCU Alumni at a special event on Friday.
“Serving as president of several student organizations provided me with a great platform to develop meaningful leadership skills that I employ to this day, as CEO of a multi-billion-dollar organization.”
– Keith Parker
In 2012, Parker was hired to serve as general manager and CEO of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, the nation’s ninth-largest transit system, which includes heavy rail, bus and paratransit services. When Parker arrived, MARTA was facing projected annual budget deficits of up to $33 million, massive ridership declines and an overwhelmingly negative public perception.
In addition, in the previous five years, the agency had eliminated 30 percent of its bus routes, increased fares by more than 40 percent and provided raises for employees in only one of the previous 10 years. Under Parker’s leadership, the authority has focused on working with employees, customers, transit stakeholders and the community to provide safe, efficient and high-quality transit services to the Atlanta region.
“Our MARTA team has turned the projected budget deficits into surpluses averaging over $15 million annually, increased ridership, added bus and rail service, held fares flat, provided raises for all eligible employees and dramatically improved the perception of the agency,” Parker said.
Positive media stories now outnumber the negative 12-to-1, he noted. For his efforts, Parker’s peers in the transit industry voted him as the nation’s Most Outstanding Public Transit Manager of 2015.
Parker also serves on the boards of several civic and charitable organizations and credits VCU for giving him the opportunity to gain leadership experience. In addition to URPSA, as a student, he served as president of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and helped lead efforts that resulted in the creation of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the introduction of the Fall Block Show, which today is one of the country’s largest.
“VCU provided the unfettered opportunity to become an adult,” Parker said. “I made many mistakes, learning a lot along the way. Serving as president of several student organizations provided me with a great platform to develop meaningful leadership skills that I employ to this day, as CEO of a multibillion-dollar organization.”