MARTA Bucks National Trend, Continues to Lose Riders

Transit ridership is on the rise in most major American cities, but the opposite is the case in Atlanta, according to the American Public Transit Association.

Since 2001, MARTA train-use has fallen 15 percent and bus ridership has dropped 31 percent.

Holly Clay of East Point wants to use MARTA more, but says the system is limited and reliability is an issue.

“There are those days where’s there’s just unexplained, unbelievable lateness and unexplained trains running late, like nobody tells you anything.”

Clark Atlanta student Kaniha Hunter rides MARTA only when she has to. She wishes it felt safer and cleaner. On multiple occasions, she’s seen rats running along the platforms.

“I was scared. I’m a girly girl so it was kind of – I mean, I guess it’s normal though. I guess that’s where they live, but they shouldn’t be on the platform. That’s a little much.” 

About 120,000 people use MARTA on a normal weekday. Since 2009, bus and train service has been cut and fares have increased from $1.75 to $2.50. Monthly passes have gone from $68 to $95.

Daily rider Andrea Jenkins of Norcross resents the fact she’s paying more and getting less.

“I kind of feel gypped because the price went up on the fare, but the service has not gone up at all, it’s just actually gone down, I think.”

MARTA currently operates at a $30 million deficit each year. That’s projected to be about $2 million worse this year because of declining ridership.

MARTA blames it on the still sluggish economy and service cutbacks over the years.

Meanwhile, new MARTA chief Keith Parker has vowed to improve service and get the agency back on stable financial ground. He has said that will likely include some privatization. One ongoing initiative is installing security cameras on trains and buses.

Below is MARTA’s complete statement in response to the new ridership numbers.

“MARTA’s ridership numbers reflect the fact that this agency has an unsustainable business model. That’s why we have a three-pronged approach to address ridership that’s consistent with everything else we’re doing to fundamentally transform the way MARTA does business.

First, in order to deal with the service cuts and fare increases that have impacted ridership, we’re lowering our costs. We’ll do that partly through sourcing some internal functions to private companies and by pursuing innovative opportunities to generate new revenues, such as concessions and transit-oriented developments.

Second, we’re removing the barriers to riding MARTA for choice riders, as well as transit dependant customers, by curtailing the kind of “knucklehead” behavior on the system that makes many people feel unsafe or uncomfortable. On top of that, we’re employing technology – including the video surveillance cameras we’re installing on all vehicles – as well as our new See & Say mobile phone app that lets customers send a text or photo directly to MARTA police if they notice suspicious activity.  And MARTA is changing the way we hire new employees as well as re-training our existing employees so that they are delivering high-quality customer service at all times.

 If we do the those two things right, the third part will organically change the perception of the agency and people will realize it’s a new day at MARTA. We’ll then use strategic opportunities to attract new customers, to reclaim some the customers that we’ve lost while also getting more people to ride the system more often. ”

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