John Bayalis, Director of Government Relations at MARTA
MEET JOHN BAYALIS
When public transportation successfully fills the varying needs of individuals in a large city, it can be a huge benefit. But how does that work? Who decides what bus lines go where, and when?
Let’s Do This connected with John Bayalis, the Director of Government Relations for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or as locals say, “MARTA” to learn more about the nuts and bolts of public transportation.
Originally from Milford, Delaware, John found his way to Atlanta to pursue a degree at the University of Georgia. John has a unique path that has led him from coordinating grassroots advocacy campaigns for a PR firm, to lobbying for one of the largest public transportation systems in the country. Read on to learn more!
GET TO KNOW MARTA
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority was formed in 1971, strictly as a bus system. MARTA now operates a network of bus and train routes across the Atlanta metro region. It’s important to recognize that public transportation does much more than provide an affordable transportation solution. It helps communities connect and develop while increasing quality of life for individuals by improving accessibility.
LET’S DO THIS
LDT: What path led you to Atlanta?
JB: I’ve been in Georgia for eighteen years.
I started a graduate degree at the University of Georgia. I didn’t finish it. In lieu of finishing, I moved to Atlanta to start my career, I realized I didn’t the degree to do what I wanted to do.
I worked for the twelve years prior to getting my job with MARTA. I did issues advocacy for a firm in Atlanta, then it got absorbed by a PR firm out of San Francisco. I ran grassroots advocacy campaigns and engaged in federal advocacy across the country. I did federal contact lobbying for various clients as well, most notably in the healthcare industry.
LDT: How did you get where you are now?
JB: So back in 2007, when my wife and I were not husband and wife yet, we lived on opposite sides of the city.
My office was in walking distance from my condo. So at the end of the day, I had to drive from my condo to her house. Traffic being what it is, it was like a four-mile drive, but it took forty-five minutes because of all of the bottlenecks and choke points that you run into in the city during rush hour.
She was working for an initiative called the Clean Air Campaign, now known as the Georgia Commute Options Program. That is essentially a program that gets businesses and individuals throughout the Atlanta Metropolitan area in the five major countries (Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett) to adopt clean commute lifestyles, which can be taking public transit, to working from home a few days a week.
There is an incentive to join the program. After 180 days, you can get $3 per day for every day you log your commute. Being from southern Delaware, I had never been exposed to much public transit outside of New York and Europe. I had been in Atlanta for about ten years at that point and MARTA did not have the greatest reputation. She convinced me to do it.
It completely changed my life. It completely changed my concept of how to be mobile around the city. I became a total believer in it. I got my $3/day, which was a great incentive. I continued to ride after that.
I became so enamored with the general improvement of my day-to-day life. Those things made me re-think what I was doing for a living at that point.
While I enjoyed doing client-based service and political consulting, I decided I wanted to make public transit my number one deal. I volunteered my time with MARTA for a program to save the bus service that went to Clayton County.
Most importantly, I met my predecessor as well as my current supervisor. When my predecessor Scott moved over to the Atlanta Regional Commission, I immediately applied and did whatever I could to convince them that I wanted to work for MARTA – my employer is essentially now my client and that’s really changed my life.
There are two in-house lobbyists at MARTA: myself and my boss, the Senior Director of External Affairs. We pretty much operate in tandem while we’re down at the Capital during the Legislative Session.
LDT: What is a typical day in your life?
JB: It’s never the same. My job is broken down into not quite two halves. The first three to four months of the year, I’m at the capitol every day and I work with our lobbying team. I work with legislators and committees of jurisdiction.
I go through my readers and make sure there is no legislation I need to be aware of and combat. I get to work on whatever we’re working on that particular day: supporting our bill, a stakeholder who will help us or the community in some way. I do a lot of meetings, interact with legislators and other lobbyists as well.
LDT: What is your rose? Thorn? I.e. what frustrates or challenges you in your work? And what is the most valuable, exciting part?
JB: The rose is that I get to affect change and am indirectly responsible for affecting change in my backyard and making my community a better place. That’s basically my job. To make my community a better place by making sure legislators are aware of MARTA and getting more people to embrace it.
The thorn… it’s really stressful especially when we’re at the Capitol during the legislative session. Yesterday I was out of the house by 7:00 am, then I was still on the phone at 9:00 pm last night. So I put in a fourteen hour day.
LDT: What do you feel most proud about in your current role?
JB: That we were able to pass a piece of legislation that led to a successful referendum last year. For the first time in MARTA’s history, we passed a bill that allowed for a referendum on additional revenue last November. That was successfully affirmed by the voters that gave MARTA it’s first new revenue for expansion in the last forty years.
LDT: What is your target audience? Who do you mainly work with?
JB: Legislators, stakeholders of all kinds – private, nonprofit, community organizations, faith-based organizations, the general public, patrons, and media. We basically talk to everybody.
LDT: What is your outlet from work? What’s your passion outside of work?
JB: My kids. And I write on the side.
LDT: How do you maintain work-life balance?
JB: I really try to lead as healthy a lifestyle as possible. I try to have a smoothie every morning. I try to go to bed relatively early so I can get a minimum of seven hours of sleep. Those are two critical things: to make sure you’re treating your body right and make sure you’re getting enough rest.
To that end, I have two really small kids. I have a two-year-old and an eleven-month-old. It’s hard to maintain balance right now because the rest of my hours are consumed by my wife and I taking care of our kids. Before kids, I played a lot of golf and tennis.
LDT: What do you want to do next? What is your next goal or initiative?
JB: You know, I really like my job so I don’t see myself going anywhere.
As far as my current career path goes, I want to keep emphasizing to the powers that be that transit can transform Atlanta and make Atlanta a better place. We’re doing a really good job and we have a great prospect this year to pass a couple of bills. One would create a commission that would have the state act upon recommendations on state-level transit funding and governance, which would be the first time they’ve taken an active interest in transit since they created MARTA in 1965. The state is really taking stock in how transit impacts the economic future of the rest of the state. And that’s a great thing.
The other goal is to become a published author. I’m working on a book and I’m really trying to wrap that up. Generally, I take a couple weeks off after the legislative session ends to write.
LDT: What kind of connections are you looking to make or need?
JB: You know MARTA specifically… I need connections to millennial groups, connections to stakeholders that we’re currently unaware of that benefit from transit, minority business associations, and other areas of the state or country that have approached transit funding in a creative way that want to share best practices and those types of things.
LDT: How do you think your market is going to change in the next 5 years? 10 years?
JB: Five years… it’s hard to say what impact the new presidential administration will have on transit funding. Nationwide transit systems depend on some level of federal funding, especially for expansion. MARTA is probably in a better position than a lot of other systems.
So five years down the road… I’m a little reluctant to make a prediction. Here in the state, I think transit will be embraced and looked at as an economic development tool.
Ten years… I think you really need to look at the impact of the autonomous vehicle, rideshare services, and the impact that new technology that we don’t even know yet, will have on transit. And the driving factors behind all those things.
Right now, it’s predicted the state of Georgia will increase in the next five years by two million people. So we’re clearly in a sweet spot where we’re going to be in the top ten largest metropolitan areas in the country and people will need to get around.
A lot of millennials are coming to Atlanta because of the transportation and transit options they have inside the city. All the work centers are gearing their opportunity around our transit system and gearing their opportunity on the assumption these millennials will want to live, work, play, and exist in walkable communities.
Atlanta has the potential to change dramatically in the next ten years. The weather, the cost of living, quality of life, and job opportunities will really make Atlanta explode over the next ten years.
LDT: Where would you like to be able to put more time and focus more energies?
JB: My writing.
LDT: Who or what kinds of people would you like to read an interview from?
JB: Anybody and everybody that is working constructively to better their community.
I will say that I think that the country is where it’s at philosophically, let’s say, because there has yet to be a meaningful dialogue for how communities work within themselves to make themselves better. I don’t think there is enough best practice sharing between communities and states. And I don’t think people hear each other.
There is a lot of ignorance on a micro level. To help people find better paths to education, top ten issues, avoiding drug abuse, I want to hear what people are doing on a hyper-local level to see what people are doing to solve these problems.
You can extrapolate these tools to regions, states, the nation… Those things get far too drowned out by the twenty-four-hour news cycle. The complete, almost deranged obsession with what I like to call non-news. I’m not buying into this fake news stuff that people become obsessed with. None of those stories are solutions to poverty, solutions to finding ways to get people to graduate from high school. None of those are solutions to curtailing drug abuse.
Each interview on Let’s Do This features a guest question from a previous collaborator. This question comes from Clint Maedgen, a multi-instrumental singer, songwriter, composer, and arranger. Clint is best known as the leader of The New Orleans Bingo! Show, in addition to playing Tenor Saxophone and Baritone Saxophone with Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Clint Maedgen, Preservation Hall Jazz Band: What do you believe is the most effective art form?
JB: That’s an interesting question… I want to say music… Well no, actually, let me change that… No, I’ll stick with music…
Mostly because I think music hits you at an emotional core, in ways that I don’t think other art forms can. Especially visual art forms. Full disclosure, my parents are both fine visual artists. They’re both painters. I grew up with a love for film and fine arts.
What separates visual from aural – there’s a lot of signposts on how to feel when you look at anything other than an abstract painting. Film tells you what to think because of the dialogue, the way the shot is framed.
Music, especially the instrumentation… I’ll be honest, I’ve never paid attention to lyrics. I always pay attention to the general context and vibe of the orchestration of the music and I think that really draws more emotionally than anything else.
LDT: What is your question for the next interview?
JB: What deceased historical figure would you want to talk to & why?
Let’s Do This! Stop, Collaborate & Listen
If you’re interested in a future collaboration or learning more about John Bayalis and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, you can connect and follow his journey using the links below.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: http://www.itsmarta.com/
- Facebook: @MARTAtransit
- Twitter: @MARTASERVICE
- Pinterest: @MARTATRANSIT
- LinkedIn: @MARTA
- Instagram: @marta_explorer