more MARTA thoughts and questions

Inspired by Joe’s and Robert’s taking apart a Jim Wooten anti-MARTA AJC opinion column. Comments welcome — comments necessary, in this case.

1) How did MARTA get its terrible reputation? I mean, I’ve heard the “jobs program” accusation bandied about all over the place — it even came up at the Citizens for Progressive Transit fundraiser — but I can’t pin down a specific incident that cemented MARTA in conservatives’ eyes as one step above welfare. Does it date back to 1971? Did it happen during Campbell’s administration? Was there a MARTA administrator who left under a particularly bad cloud? I need some history here.

2) Why were the Sandy Springs and North Springs stations built? I mean, I know (or, rather, am fairly sure) it was Olympics-related, but why those two sites? Similarly, has anyone studied whether the presence of the Sandy Springs and North Springs stations have reduced traffic along that stretch of 400? If they have, and the answer is “no,” that’s going to be a big blow to future station-building arguments.

3) Has MARTA ever posted schedules, etc., at bus stops? I know I keep harping on this, so to be fair I want to know if these were up in the ’70s or ’80s and later fell victim to budget cuts, or have never been there in the first place.

4) Should MARTA drop bus service altogether? It would certainly bring them in line with Wooten’s (and Sonny Perdue’s) ideas of operating efficiently. I think I’d suggest this just to see the storms of protest that resulted. More seriously, we’re already seeing public bus alternatives being put in — the private services on Buford Highway, Georgia Tech’s and Emory’s shuttles. I’m not saying it would be fair or painless. It might, however, spur some creative thinking as to who might fill the gap.

5) Have you seen MARTA’s financial statement lately? (It’s there.) If I’m doing my math right, assuming 20 years’ of service for “non-rep” (non-union) pensioned employees and the minimum monthly benefit ($650/month) for union pensioned employees, MARTA has an annual pension liability — just pension, not health care benefits to its retired employees, which it also provides — of around $12.8 million. That’s my guesstimate, which may not be worth the pixels that print it, and that’s admittedly not as bad as, say, GM’s pension liability (or for that matter, probably not as bad as New York’s or Boston’s transit pension liabilities). Still — ow.

6) The 2004 financial report also says that MARTA eventually plans for 45 stations, of which 38 are currently in existence. Where should the seven future stations go, if they ever do get built?

7) Also from the financial report: what is “farebox recovery,” and why has it gone down since 1995?

8) Finally as for the financial report, where’s the info on senior management’s compensation? On most (not necessarily all) annual reports of private firms nowadays, these get separately broken out, but I’m looking and I can’t find it.

9) Has anyone ever taken MARTA to Six Flags? Did anyone know you can take an express bus to Six Flags?

10) Finally, can we get MARTA a new PR person? Not just because of the general black cloud I referred to in Question 1 (and by the way, if you think MARTA is bloated and corrupt, wait ’til you see the $284 billion highway spending bill Congress just passed), but because MARTA’s case for itself includes, “The availability of MARTA as a transit alternative saved Atlantans approximately 25 million man hours in traffic delays.” I hope that’s annual, but even if it is, that’s only six man-hours per person in the region per year. Which is, if you consider it, not all that impressive.

16 Comments so far

  1. tiffany (unregistered) on April 8th, 2005 @ 1:47 pm

    I can answer a couple of these, though some of these answers are speculation:

    1. Too many black folks. There is a serious anti-black, anti-urban bias in most of metro Atlanta and Georgia, which keeps many people off of MARTA and keeps MARTA out of most places.

    2. I remember hearing an explanation for this from a MARTA rep a few years ago. Federal transportation dollars for transit are doled-out based on congestion.

    Federal thinking is that if there is a transit alternative people will stay off of the roads. Only that doesn’t take into account the fact that people live on the north and west sides to get away from MARTA and “those people” who ride it. But that’s why the N. Springs and Sandy Springs stations were built. They *had* to be in order for the region to get that funding. Clean air regulations and that such thing.

    6. The other 7 stations should go in Fulton or Southern DeKalb County — places where transit will actually be used. I ride the East line every day and the train stays packed until Decatur station. Most of the people who ride get off between Decatur and Indian Creek.

    4. Can’t drop bus service. Too many businesses and college students would be affected. Lots of unskilled service businesses (i.e. fast food restaurants) depend on employees who use transit. But they should definitely analyze and re-route them where necessary.

    10. But it *is* impressive when you realize that most people in the region *do not* take MARTA. In fact, I’d say less than half do.

  2. Jen (unregistered) on April 8th, 2005 @ 2:30 pm

    I agree with Tiffany on #1, #6 and #4. But I’d add that the racial component also includes Hispanics, which are about 30% of the minority riders on the North line.

    We should improve MARTA for those who ride it the most, which are people who live in Fulton/DeKalb. Fuck everyone else. They want don’t want MARTA? Let them suffer in traffic.

  3. kendall (unregistered) on April 8th, 2005 @ 8:31 pm






    That’s what I was told MARTA stood for when I first moved here.

    What’s going on with MARTA is yet another

    by product of gentrification in Atlanta. The economic shift taking place has MARTA scrambling to reach its’ core ridership who have been priced out of the ‘hood’ …sent packing to the Southwest, South and East sides of town.

    The only reason I don’t frequent MARTA is because I hate waiting outside for a friggin’ bus. It is way past irritating when the bus you waited 15 minutes past the scheduled arrival time gets you to your desired destination 10 minutes after the time you would have arrived had you driven.

    Nothing will ever change as long as the current administration (i’ve always wanted to use that phrase) continues to treat MARTA like the nappy headed step child it ‘appears’ to be…

  4. Amber (unregistered) on April 8th, 2005 @ 9:41 pm

    I’m wondering who I should direct a letter about MARTA to. The mayor? Somebody else? I don’t know. A friend from out-of-town was visiting me for the past 2 days, and we took MARTA to Lenox Mall and the Coke Museum (and I think somewhere else, though I can’t remember). On our way to the mall, none of the turnstiles at Arts Center Station would take my monthly card. Only the handicapped access gate worked – which I ended up having to hold open for my friend, because she’d asked for a rail transfer when we were on the bus earlier and apparently (as we came to find out later) the bus driver screwed up and gave her a bus-to-bus transfer. (No wonder it didn’t work!) Something similar happened again at Arts Center this morning – the turnstile ate my friend’s token without opening! So again, I had to put my card in the handicapped one and sneak her thru with me.

    It was infuriating. I hadn’t experienced those types of things before because I tend to use the bus more than the train, and when I do use the train, I am usually coming from a bus that goes into the train station, so I don’t have to pass thru the turnstiles.

    How can they expect to get ridership if nothing WORKS?

  5. Dek (unregistered) on April 9th, 2005 @ 2:44 am

    Gang, just face it! Where does MARTA go? Nowhere anyone wants to go except maybe the airport.

    Every time I come to Atlanta I think about taking MARTA somewhere – anywhere! Why the hell do I want to go to 90% of the stations the MARTA rail goes? I don’t live in the inner city. Get a clue.

    I live in NYC, travel to DC and London for business all the time. I can get just about anywhere on these rail systems. I don’t need a bus. I always have to rent a car and sit in Atlanta traffic when I come here for business. It’s stupid. I’ve asked people in the past about MARTA and they say it’s useless for general travel around the city. I agree.

    I can’t conceive of any reason why the MARTA rail system was designed as it was except to accommodate your indigent population. It will take millions of dollars and many, many years to make it worth the time for the general population.

    You have such a nice city! If I were you, I’d FORGET ABOUT MARTA, let it serve the inner city and let a new and separate rail system take over the transportation needs of your metro area. From what I’ve read, over time, in your local paper, you’ll need a major political overhaul to make that even a dream.

  6. Stevie (unregistered) on April 9th, 2005 @ 3:08 am

    I would have to agree that MARTA needs to stay where it is and fix itself – and some other system take over. Living up in the “NW Territories” of Atlanta, aka, Kennesaw, there are NO stations for me at all.

    If I get on I-75 and come toward the city, I just keep driving into downtown because there are no stations that are logical for me. Not even for the airport.

    I also agree that the current political climate of Atlanta will never see MARTA as a true “Metro” service and will consider it a city only idea – and that’s fine.

    With the traffic as it is in the ATL, the most logical thought that comes to mind is, indeed, a separate system, that is outside of anything MARTA, that could take over the transportation needs for “the rest of us”.

    And a very important factor is “the rest of us”.

    We, ( I ), would love to come to Atlanta more to spend money and enjoy what we have inside the fruit loop, (285), but, I don’t, because, for me, between the hours of 6:00 – 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 – 6:45 p.m., this country boy ain’t getting in the damn traffic on I-75, or I-85, or I-20, or I-285. Need I mention Peachtree St, Ponce, Freedom Parkway, etc.?

    That does not leave much time to enjoy Atlanta on my off days – some, of which, are during the week.

  7. Jen (unregistered) on April 9th, 2005 @ 11:18 am

    Dek, MARTA actually takes me everywhere I need to go. I live a half mile from a station, which takes me to work and school (both downtown). And when I get on the train at 8:30am, it’s already PACKED with people who live above the Lindbergh split. And when I get on the train around 4 or 5, it’s packed with people getting off of work.

    Just because it doesn’t go where you want it go doesn’t meant it’s not serving the rest of who who apparently live in ‘the inner city’. Get a clue yourself.

  8. Joe (unregistered) on April 9th, 2005 @ 7:22 pm

    It really takes speaking up and telling your elected officials that you want rail in your area, then they’ll start getting a clue. Transportation is important to all of us because we value having a freedom of mobility. If we continue to focus only on building more roads, we’ll wind up losing our mobility.

    Get on board with Citizens for Progressive Transit. The organization’s primary goal is to get the citizen’s voice heard more in the transportation planning process.

    Go to the upcoming Northwest corridor meetings if you’re from Kennesaw. There will be three rounds of discussion (4/26, 5/26, and 6/28.. all from 6:30p to 8:30p) at the Kennesaw State University Center. Their plan is to put in HOV lanes and busses. Go and tell them you want rail. They’ll give you a bullshit answer as to why they’re going with the plan they have, but don’t accept their answer.

  9. amanda (unregistered) on April 11th, 2005 @ 12:14 pm

    I hate Marta. I am in the travel industry and wrecked my car prior to 9/11 and have been unable to replace it due to having to re-build my career. Where should I start, atrocious schedules, delays with no explanations. 20 Minutes between trains at rush hour. Turnstiles which are horribly maintained,that never work,requiring crawling under or over.Installation of new jump-proof turnstiles which will insure you can’t get into the station at all once installation is complete at all stations. Rude staff, my train this morning failed to have signage as to the trains destination-not uncommon;however when I walked up to the conductor’s window and asked him what the destination was he stared past me and I had to ask the same question several times. Frequently buses also have a lack of route signage-making it neccessary to flag the wrong bus down to find out if it is the correct bus. “Marta TV” installed in all the trains and buses months ago which loop the same thing day in and day out. There are four loops all annoying. I could go on and on on how horrible this system is. I can’t wait until I have a new car in November.

  10. Joe (unregistered) on April 12th, 2005 @ 1:35 pm

    The other day I was waiting for a Westbound train, and it seemed like it was taking a little longer than normal. The lady standing next to me asked, “What’s going on?” I said, “Not enough funding.”

  11. Frank (unregistered) on April 12th, 2005 @ 5:49 pm

    2) Sandy Springs and North Springs are a first step to reaching into the northern suburbs, right up GA 400. Since MARTA can’t expand into Cobb or Gwinnett, they chose to move up into North Fulton. If they haven’t reduced traffic along 400, it’s because people are moving up there so quickly.

    7) Farebox recovery is the portion of costs covered by farebox revenue. If gas prices, employee wages, or other expenses go up, or if paid ridership on a given route or rail line goes down, farebox recovery will drop, and you have to make that up through non-fare revenue (sales tax, real estate, advertising, etc.) or dip into reserves.

    10) MARTA has a new PR person. In August, they hired a new Director of Communications, the first one the authority’s ever had. Her name is Joselyn Butler Baker.

    MARTA is never going to be THE answer to transit in Atlanta. A MARTA train to Kennesaw would take 2 hours, with all the stops it would have to make. Ideally, there would also be commuter rail for folks living in Kennesaw, Jonesboro, Newnan, Madison, Gainesville, Macon, etc.

  12. Elizabeth (unregistered) on April 21st, 2005 @ 10:41 am

    New here…

    We always take MARTA to/from the airport but not for much, if anything, else. We live in Sandy Springs inside 285. If I could, I would love to take it to/from work, but I need my car daily for work (I’m a social worker) so that’s not an option. My husband had a job once downtown and took MARTA and loved that. I’d rather sit (or stand if need be) on the train where I can read the paper or a book or do work than sit in my car where I can’t do anything but sit in traffic.

  13. Ryan (unregistered) on April 24th, 2005 @ 11:05 pm

    2)We talked about congestion in an urban planning class for my major last fall. Theoreticall, and I feel that this is pretty realistic, is that for every car taken off of the road, another will replace it. So public transit can be a huge help to slowing the growth of congestion; only when you have fully adequate transit (which is rare anywhere) will your transit actually reduce congestion.

    3) There are over 100 bus stops in the system with schedule information posted at the stop itself. MARTA is working to expand this; to me, this is a no-brainer.

    6) Additional station would be along an extended North Line (3 stations, I think), an extended Proctor Creek line (1 station past Bankhead), 1 station past HE Holmes on the West Line (at Fulton Industrial), and the Tucker-North DeKalb line (not sure how many stations). I think that MARTA’s original Hapeville extension is no longer in the plans.

    10) If you consider how small MARTA’s service area is in comparison to the whole region’s area, MARTA’s saving far more hours for those who are able to use it.

    MARTA’s on-time performance standards for the bus system: buses can be up to 5 minutes late (reasonable, given unpredictable traffic, weather, and road conditions), but NEVER early. If buses are early or exceed their 5-minute buffer, REPORT THEM. They DO keep track of complaints and work to improve problem routes.

    I’m a huge advocate of MARTA, and let me be the first to say that if your service is bad or yo have an unpleasant experience, LET THEM KNOW. I know from experience that it is possible to have your concerns addressed.

    – Ryan

  14. Robert (unregistered) on April 28th, 2005 @ 1:56 am

    Hey there,

    Just to ad a comment about 6 Flags. There was a deal in place to build the west line out to the 6 Flags Parking Lot. How lovely that would have been…

    It was foiled when Fulton Commission chair Mike Kenn, who later went to work for the roads lobby, used his position to veto the proposal.

  15. Rebecca (unregistered) on July 2nd, 2005 @ 12:45 am

    If you have a comment for MARTA and want a response and maybe even some action, here’s where to go for the scoop on how to make an effective comment/complaint/suggestion:

    Regarding # 7), “farebox recovery,” means the amount MARTA actually collects per customer. Reasons it is down from 1995 include: fare evasion (thus all those “No fare, no ride” signs – they are a gesture to the union, which has a hard time enforcing the fare policy), paratransit costs a lot more than what MARTA charges riders and about seven times what regular service costs per rider, and the elderly and disabled ride at discounted rates (starting in July, they will ride free, to save money on paratransit operations), and most importantly, let’s go ahead and state the obvious fact about existing fareboxes: many if not most of them just don’t work. The company that made them has actually stopped repairing the 25 year old things because they don’t make those parts anymore.

    Fortunately, 2006 brings new fareboxes and faregates, and a new “smart card” MARTA is calling the “Breeze.” It will be capable of being read without being removed from your wallet – no more fumbling at the gates.

    If you have ideas on how MARTA can do a better job with publicity, send them to and we will pass them along at our next meeting.

  16. DP (unregistered) on October 24th, 2005 @ 10:24 am

    I understand that the marta doesn’t go into the other counties bu it can at least go to the border lines of the surronding countines. I mean damn.

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