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MARTA bus service to be cut as COVID-19 sparks staffing shortage

Staffing shortages brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are forcing MARTA to cut its bus routes starting in December.
Staffing shortages brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are forcing MARTA to cut its bus routes starting in December.
Credit Alison Guillory / WABE
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Staffing shortages brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are forcing Atlanta’s city transportation system to cut its bus routes starting in December.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority plans to move 96 of its 113 routes to a Saturday schedule beginning Dec. 18. The agency has seen ridership drop to about half what it was before the coronavirus pandemic, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Eleven of MARTA’s most-used routes will keep regular schedules, and six routes that don’t operate on Saturday will also keep a regular weekday schedule. No routes will be eliminated, and there will be no changes to rail service.

“This is not something we want to do,” CEO Jeffrey Parker told the MARTA board of directors Thursday. “This is something we believe is a rational and appropriate thing we want to do under the circumstances.”

Deputy General Manager Collie Greenwood said reducing the bus schedule will allow MARTA to better staff its routes and give customers more predictable service.

“We felt that the alternative was to continue to post the same schedules and have the customers kind of guess as to what the level of service would be tomorrow,” Greenwood told the board.

MARTA’s budget includes funding for 1,366 bus drivers. But the number of drivers is down to 1,179 — 14% below full strength.

Greenwood said employees have left for a variety of reasons, but the coronavirus pandemic is a big factor and absenteeism has taken a toll. So far, 921 MARTA employees have tested positive for COVID-19. An additional 60 drivers have ignored MARTA’s recent requirement to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or undergo weekly tests, and they now face termination. If MARTA fires those drivers, its bus driver workforce will be down 18%.

MARTA officials aren’t sure how long the service reductions will last. The agency plans to restore service gradually as it hires more drivers.

Greenwood said MARTA has stepped up recruiting efforts — including reaching out to retired drivers — to address the staffing shortage.