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MARTA Asks Visually Impaired, Blind Community For Input On Transit Plan

At Monday's meeting at the Center for the Visually Impaired, several MARTA riders shared stories of times they were left lost and frustrated after stations or bus lines changed without notice.
At Monday's meeting at the Center for the Visually Impaired, several MARTA riders shared stories of times they were left lost and frustrated after stations or bus lines changed without notice.
Credit RTABus / wikimedia commons

In the past few months, MARTA has launched a massive public outreach campaign to get more input on the More MARTA plan — the city’s biggest transit investment in history.

Representatives say they want to get as many opinions as possible before board members vote on the plan in October.

The current proposal would add 21 miles of light rail to the city and expand bus services, and there’s been some debate over where the light rail should be put.

But in Monday’s meeting at the Center for the Visually Impaired, the biggest request was for better communication between blind and visually impaired riders and MARTA.

Several riders shared stories of times they were left lost and frustrated after MARTA stations moved or bus lines changed without notice. Many said they are left to ask pedestrians on the street for directions because stations are largely identified through signs and other visual methods.

Still, Greg Aikens said this meeting was a good step in that direction.

“I’m blind, and so when I went onto the More MARTA website, I realized a lot of the information was maps, so that wasn’t something I was really able to access,” Aikens said. “Now, after hearing the presentation, I feel like I’m better informed and can take the survey.”

Aikens said he’s happy that MARTA is expanding its services, but he hopes it will also invest in improving current transit options for the blind and visually impaired. He mentioned Bluetooth beacons and other audible wayfinding methods as possible solutions to inaccessible stations.

It’s something that would have helped Aikens in the past, traveling as a blind transit user. He described moving into his new house and depending on rides from friends because he had trouble finding transit stops and stations.

This new technology, Aikens said, could be a good addition to the plan.

Other audience members were less hopeful.

Robert Swain said he isn’t sure he can trust MARTA to take the concerns of his community into consideration, which is why he didn’t vote in favor of the plan during the 2016 referendum.

Swain said one of his biggest requests for the More MARTA plan would be audible crosswalk signals near MARTA stations.

“Having some form of audible-directional guidance makes a world of difference on how we navigate day to day,” Swain said. “People don’t know what it’s like to stand on the side of the road and have to guess, solely based on sound, if traffic is coming.”

He also challenged MARTA representatives to travel the city blindfolded, to experience life as a blind transit user.

The representatives at the meeting took the challenge.