Marta, are you really smarta?

This morning my wife dropped her father off at the Chamblee Marta station so he could make his way to Hartsfield and fly home. This being his first experience with Atlanta’s rapid transit system (or any rapid transit system for all I know), we gave him simple but precise instructions on how to buy a token, where to go once he passed through the turnstile and where to get off. He was to ride Marta all the way from the northern-most station on the line until the end. How difficult could it be? A few hours later my wife tells me over the phone about his journey on Marta.

As it turns out the riding wasn’t what he had trouble with. It was the token buying. Then again, he didn’t really have too much of a problem with that either. He just didn’t buy one. After dropping him off, my wife watched as he stumbled around the entrance looking for the token machines. She said he would later claim that while he saw the machines, he assumed they were mere vending machines, like of the Coke and chips dispensing variety. So he does what any savvy tourist does in a foreign land. He watched the locals to see how they maneuvered in a such a situation.

It was then that he watched a snappily dressed woman with a briefcase exit her kiss-ride and stride up to the turnstiles. She immediately reached for the handicap turnstyle, the one which is actually just a gate large enough to accommodate a wheelchair, hoveround or seeing eye pachyderm, pull it back toward her and pass through. Not only did the woman not have a wheelchair, hoveround or seeing eye anything, she didn’t have a token. As my father-in-law would later claim there was another befuddled touristy type he had seen wandering aimlessly like he was who, upon seeing the briefcase-wielding woman proceed both effortlessly and cheaply through the gate, followed right in after her. In turn my father-in-law, always happy to stick it to the Man, followed suit.

There were three people within just that brief span of time who successfully cheated Marta out of it’s fare share. If they did it all in a matter of a few minutes, you can imagine how many people must do this throughout the day. Surely this doesn’t happen just at the Chamblee station. Is it any wonder our rail system is failing miserably and has been for some time? I’m not one who generally touts privatization, but you gotta wonder if there isn’t a better way to manage our tax dollars. Marta, are you really smarta? Or are you just cheapa?

Incidentally, I tried to go on the Marta website this morning to find out how much the fare was so I could do some general estimation on losses, but the site was down. Go figure.

12 Comments so far

  1. Evan (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 8:33 am

    Apparently, at the stations where MARTA has installed the Breeze Gates, they have had an increase in collections of around 30%. That’s HUGE. I imagine this problem will gradually disappear as they finish off the installation.

    My question is, why can I not buy a re-usable Breeze Card?

  2. idiot (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 8:46 am

    “I tried to go on the Marta website this morning to find out how much the fare was.. ”

    Since you’re clearly not a MARTA rider, maybe you should stop opining on how to fix “the system”. Maybe the people who are most affected by MARTA routes should have the say in what happens; no you’d rather hand it over to Microsoft or Comcast so they can give everyone viruses and suspend service whenever they want.

    Three people didn’t pay! Put it on the front of the AJC!

    Also: why does metblogs suck extra hard lately??

  3. Alex (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 8:49 am

    The wheelchair trick won’t work for much longer at the Chamblee station. It’s one of the last remaining stations to be converted completely over to the new Breeze gates.

    The Breeze cards are cool, but… I’ve been to the Doraville station a couple of weeks ago when they weren’t working. Each and everyone was ‘out of order’. There was an assistant at the gates to collect fares, but was only accepting exact change. Who’s going to carry exact change when the vending machines accept debit and credit cards? If the vending machines aren’t 100% reliable, they’re going to be a headache.

    At the moment the machines are not selling re-usable Breeze cards. So everytime I ride Marta I need to buy a new card. Seems like a waste of resources to me. Buy a card, walk through gate, dispose of card. Can’t Marta recycle these things somehow?

  4. George Burdell (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 8:53 am

    “Since you’re clearly not a MARTA rider, maybe you should stop opining on how to fix ‘the system'”

    I don’t see any ideas on fixing the system in the post – just the statement that a problem exist. Appropriate commenter name, Idiot.

  5. Kevin (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 9:35 am

    Marta fare is 1.75 per ride.

  6. kevin (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 9:52 am

    Regarding the self-appointed idiot who doesn’t care to hear opining, might I suggest some form of medium other than blogs. Also, while I don’t know that the privatization of Marta would lead to Microsoft uploading viruses into our rapid transit system, I do think there are probably plenty of viruses already there, few of which can be attributed to technology. Lastly as to why Metblogs sucks extra hard lately, I will take the blame.

    I was a daily Marta rider in college until I found the hassle of sidetracking my journey to Georgia State several miles to hop Marta on the north end of town and having to pay for parking at the station (remember that?)outweighed the convenience of getting to my destination in less time in my own car. You see, although I piloted a 1983 beat up Chevy Camaro with more rust on it than paint, I found that if I locked all my doors the only idiocy surrounding me was my own. When I took the train, I was subjected to the idiocy of others. My own idiocy I’m used to. The idiocy of others however, I find borderline intolerable.

  7. tiffany (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 11:00 am

    how your father in law couldn’t figure out that those ‘coke-type’ vending machines weren’t fare machines is just bizarre. common sense would suggest that vending machine-looking things near the fare gates might — *GASP* — sell tickets/tokens.

    but that’s precisely why MARTA has installed breeze gates at all but three stations — chamblee is one of the few stations that doesn’t have breeze yet.

  8. KAMYLO (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 12:31 pm

    Just FYI been handicap is not an excuse to avoid the payment… I’m in a wheelchair and as a person with a disability I have to pay a reduce fee, in order to use MARTA!!!

  9. martarider (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 1:25 pm

    Just FYI – once MARTA installs Breeze at every station, they will begin to phase in reloadable Breeze cards (timeline, I believe, is by the end of ’06).

    For those of us who save close to $200/month in gas and avoid countless hours of traffic by spending $50 to buy a monthly Marta pass, it is definitely smarter!

  10. jonathan peterson (unregistered) on June 27th, 2006 @ 5:22 pm

    MARTA sucks because your Father-in-law is willing to steal money from them?

  11. ryan (unregistered) on June 28th, 2006 @ 10:17 am

    marta IS smarta and cheapa both.

    full installation of the new “breeze” fare system will be complete within several months. the breeze gates will put an end to a considerable amount of fare evasion. however, and this goes for us frequent/constant riders, it’s a brand new system, and there are bugs to be worked out. it won’t be perfect for a while yet. the disposable paper breeze cards also function as a transfer – once breeze is installed, you’ll tap them on your way into the system and also on the way out, so people won’t be tossing them so quickly. also, even the paper cards are re-usable, so hopefully infrequent riders will hang on to their cards and re-charge them when they need to ride.

    as for the idiocy of others, Kevin, are you not surrounded by that when you’re driving? with the plethora of traffic problems and unsafe drivers, i’d say that you have to deal with the idiocy of others more when you’re driving on local roads or freeways. and in a public place, like, say, Georgia State (or any other college), or a braves game, or any street anywhere, or on MARTA, you can’t package yourself away from the behaviors of others. MARTA is a public place. public places are for multiple users. as long as it’s not hurting you, if you can learn either to accept or at least tune out the behavior of other people (which you will inevitably have to deal with) you’ll be much happier.

  12. patrick (unregistered) on July 11th, 2006 @ 10:40 am

    MARTA’s problem really isnt the fare collection system, but its insistance upon relying on machines to operate problem free with little supervision. MARTA used to have station agents at the faregate areas almost all the time but made cuts. In addition they completely did away with live monitoring of the cameras in the stations. Under such circumstances, it doesnt matter what sort of fare collection system you have; you can have a magnetic card/token system, a fancy smart card breeze system, or a series of collection buckets ala salvation army….if the equipment isnt being watched, it will be defeated at best and completely destroyed at the worst.

    If you go up to DC and ride the Metro, you’ll notice that just about every set of faregates has a permanent booth built in for station agents to monitor the gates and the cameras in the station. Should there be any problem with either, they can alert the police officer assigned to that station for prompt resonse. Their fare collection system is almost identical to our old one (same company, Cubic Western Data or simply Cubic today) and in comparably great shape. It was even retrofitted sucessfully to accept their own smartcard…at a cheaper cost ill wager. Ultimately, it all works because DC has protected their investment while MARTA has focused police officers in the parking lots instead of the stations and made cuts to station personel, thus allowing bums and two-bit hustlers to make a living by breaking into the faregates, stealing the tokens and selling them for a buck a piece to other riders.

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