I-85 Collapse Gives MARTA A Chance To Create Loyal Riders

Brookhaven resident Pam Porter is using MARTA to get to her job in Midtown now that a portion of I-85 is closed.
Brookhaven resident Pam Porter is using MARTA to get to her job in Midtown now that a portion of I-85 is closed.
Credit Stephannie Stokes / WABE

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The disruption from the Interstate 85 bridge collapse has led many commuters to change their habits. And some say that’s a big opportunity for MARTA.

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On a weekday morning, Pam Porter usually would be sitting in her car.

But on this day, she’s sitting on a bench at the Brookhaven MARTA station.

“Since the collapse, I’ve been taking the MARTA into Midtown,” Porter said.

Midtown is where Porter works. With the gridlock around I-85, she said, transit’s her best option.

“Once I get on the train here, it takes me ten minutes,” Porter said. “It’s just so much easier.”

Habits in flux provide a great chance for MARTA to create loyal passengers, said Phil Rubin, CEO of a marketing firm, rDialogue.

The agency just needs to give the new riders a reason to come back.

“If they can improve the passenger experience to the point where people see that this is not just a requirement now, because of the construction on 85,” Rubin said.

But, Rubin continued, people need to see that riding MARTA can be enjoyable and easy to manage.

“That goes a long way towards reinforcing and creating essentially a new habit loop for these passengers,” Rubin said.

MARTA’s General Manager Keith Parker said the agency is aiming for that.

Since the bridge collapse, he said MARTA’s already done more to accommodate new riders.

“Everything from adding a significant amount of new parking ride capacity to creating a new app that lets people know where available parking spaces are,” Parker said.

He said, the agency’s also increased communication to riders about delays or new services.

“So the big push for us has been to really overdo it on the customer service,” Parker said.

He thinks that can turn the temporary passengers into permanent ones when the work on the I-85 bridge is done.

Asked about whether she’d continue her MARTA trips after that time, Pam Porter, the Brookhaven woman who commutes to Midtown, hesitates.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “I’d like to get back to normal. I need my car in Midtown.”

So, Porter, at least, is not ready to change her habits long term.