one month on the rails.


this week marked one month of riding public transportation for me. at the risk of being accused of being a paid marta shill i just thought i would offer some insights after more than 30 days of this little experiment (btw – i keep a running journal of marta chronicles over at my personal blog, so feel free to check that out if you want.)

first and foremost there are a lot of myths about marta. the first one i wish to explode is that marta doesn’t go anywhere. the main reason for this myth has to do with the fact that most people only focus on the rail network. the truth is that you can get just about anywhere in fulton and dekalb on marta. all it takes is a little research and some patience.

next myth, riding the bus sucks. this just hasn’t been my experience. since this whole experiement kicked off i have made riding marta buses a daily part of my routine. i have now ridden on 11 different bus routes – 2, 5, 9, 12, 13, 21, 23, 38, 110 and 140 and i added the 107 to my list last night. i have found riding the bus to be safe, relaxing and ultimately a much better way to get around than getting angry at other drivers and constantly switching lanes to save 30 seconds.

i honestly love taking public transit. i know many of you reading this think i am crazy. there is at least one commenter who has expressed offense and my cheerleading of marta.

i’ll say this though. our car addiction is starting to hurt us. the ajc ran an article not to long ago where a consulting firm specializing in picking sites for corporate hq’s flatly stated that atlanta’s traffic was causing companies to look elsewhere.

we all know that public transportation in atlanta could be better. we all know that heavy rail could be extended further north in fulton, into gwinett and cobb and that light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid transit would make a huge difference.

but in the end, we have to do with what we have. and what we have is viable. we can keep bitching about more money, but maybe WE need to show the politicians that we have a desire for it. by increasing ridership on marta and the other transit options available we can show our politicians we are serious.

it was frequent commenter bti’s comments on my post “it’s not smarta” that first got me thinking about how much i was overestimating the value of my convenience. i encourage all of you to think hard about it yourself.

in the end there are too many cars on our city’s streets. i know that some of you can’t do it. for timing reasons or because of where you live it’s just impossible. but for many of you, you probably could if you are willing in particular to let the two myths referenced at the beginning of this post go.

as for me, i plan to keep eliminating car trips and adding bus routes to my retinue. i’m having the time of my life. seriously, look at the smile on my face.

i am also going to keep posting about it and challenging you all to think about it. i believe this is important for the future of our city.

9 Comments so far

  1. tiffany (unregistered) on December 21st, 2007 @ 10:24 am

    i did the car + marta thing for 5.5 years (i.e., drive to the station and take the train in). it really is a great way to commute if you live within its service area. between gas, parking fees and car maintenance, i saved at least $150 per month. the commute was a little bit longer, but it was productive. i easily read 10-12 books a year because i read on the train.

    now i work in a neighborhood where the bus line that passes closest to the office runs hourly, and the train stop is a mile away. i like the convenience of having my car with me, but the cost savings alone is worth a return to MARTA.

  2. Maura (unregistered) on December 21st, 2007 @ 10:42 am

    I ride MARTA to work but rarely recreationally – something to try.

  3. Brody (unregistered) on December 21st, 2007 @ 10:48 am

    I think your experiment was a great idea and I’m glad you are bringing more attention to the MARTA system. I recently moved to Atlanta and I find the MARTA a great convenience. I use MARTA all the time when traveling to Midtown or Decatur. The insanity of sitting alone in a car, surrounded by other solo drivers, to make a twenty-mile trip in an hour was is all shades of ridiculous to me.

    Maybe the MARTA should add vanity coaches to entice all the people who apply make-up or use electric razors while driving during their commute.

  4. Annie (unregistered) on December 21st, 2007 @ 10:51 am

    Thanks, james, for a great post and for the ongoing thoughts about mass transit. I know I have enjoyed it and respected your devotion to your experiment.

    Marta just doesn’t work for me with two kids. I could do it, but I would probably have a stroke. But when I did use it, like TIffany, I enjoyed the time on the train, the people-watching, and the time to listen to music or read.

    I like that you challenged people to use it more, too. I think you are right – there has to be a tipping point, where people are so fed up w/our traffic, that they turn to Marta, and then maybe the money for more rail, etc. will follow. I hope so.

    I think I will try to get the kids on – I have ventured out with one kid, but not with two. Should make for an interesting post.

  5. Brian (unregistered) on December 21st, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

    James — I’ve enjoyed the Marta Chronicles, showing that there’s more to Marta than just the NS-EW rail, demonstrating it can work for normal people, and challenging everyone out there to give it a shot. Most blogs are just bitching and venting and very little real action. Yours is one of the few that goes beyond hot air. Keep up the good work.

  6. Reco (unregistered) on December 22nd, 2007 @ 3:41 pm

    Yeah, and it really all boils down to the convenience of MARTA and having a car. That’s the ideal situation. Think of it this way…

    Going to work in the morning is a very routine thing. We all pretty much wake-up at a set time and leave work at a set time. For these routinized daily habits, MARTA can be great.

    Where it really sucks is…imagine you don’t have a car and your friends call you to meet them at Trackside on the weekend and you live in the Highlands. Now you’ve got to get on the 21 (I think) and ride to Five Points station. Oh wait, MARTA has off hours during the weekends so once you’re at the station you might have to wait 20 minutes to get on the train. Okay you’re finally on the train Eastbound to Decatur station. Wait, you don’t even know what bus to take from there, or if it would be better to take a bus at Avondale or East Lake stations. So you call MARTA customer service and the recording says it will be 10 whole minutes before you get to speak with a live person, but you can log onto for “route planning information”.

    Forget about it, you think, as you decide to walk from Decatur Station to Trackside…it’s really not that far you imagine. And then you realize the weather decided to be cold today. You curse yourself as you pass that Flexcar stop for not signing up last week.

    You arrive approximately 1 hour after you got the call to meet up, while your inebriated buddies mockingly ask you where you’ve been.

    MARTA, great for planned trips, outings and highly trafficked work routes. MARTA, bad for on the go unplanned destinations to and fro…

    P.S. If you have to take the bus to get to the train station that also sucks. You find yourself waking up hours earlier than your colleagues only to arrive to work around the same time…and they had to deal with traffic.

  7. weremonkey (unregistered) on December 27th, 2007 @ 11:29 am

    I don’t live in a location convenient for public transportation now (it’s non-existent in my neighborhood) but MARTA is by far the easiest way to get downtown.

    When I have jury duty or a downtown event I want to attend, I will get a ride from taxi or friend to the nearest MARTA station and take the train downtown. Much cheaper than paying the incredible parking fees of downtown and midtown and less frustrating than navigating all of the odd one-way streets that don’t seem to follow a grid like other cities.

    MARTA is also by far the fastest and cheapest way to go to and from the airport. It’s the only way I take when I travel.

  8. FireBrand (unregistered) on December 30th, 2007 @ 3:09 am

    I agree 100%. I enjoy my MARTA experience. I rarely have ANY problems. I ride the buses and the trains late nights, early mornings and at rush hour. I enjoy taking time to listen to my ipod and read a book or collect my thoughts while laughing at traffic as I roll by.

    Then again, I live downtown. I live a few blocks from a train station and a bus stop is at the end of my street- about 40 yards from my front door.

  9. steve (unregistered) on January 7th, 2008 @ 11:30 am

    I live in Midtown and would love to take transit to my job in the Cobb Galleria area, but I simply cannot. There are Cobb County Transit buses that come into and out of Midtown, but even if everything goes 100% according to schedule, my commute would take three to four times as long as it does when I just drive. Oh well, boo to Cobb County for resisting Marta way back when.

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