MARTA: A Guide to Atlanta’s Roads and Rails

There I was, with a broken down transmission in my Mazda 626. I was running late for work, and my carpool friend was by this time, happily ensconced in rush-hour traffic on I-285. My options at this point? A cab ride that would cost nearly as much as my grocery tab for the week, OR a ride on MARTA, Atlanta’s mass transit system. Outside of hopping onto the first bus that passed down my street, I had no idea where to depart, or what connections to take to reach my destination. It was during this time (while my vehicle was down and out) that I decided to really acquaint myself with public transportation.

MARTA, which stands for Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, is a relatively “new” entity. Officially established in 1965, the first rail line didn’t appear on the scene until June 30, 1979. Even though this was around the time when the bus and rail systems were combined, not until the year 2000 were most of the rail projects completed. Over the years, MARTA has even sprawled out into some of metro Atlanta’s farthest suburban communities. Ironically, with MARTA’s fairly rapid growth, the system itself is relatively simple. Unlike other rail systems like that in New York -which spread through the NY metropolis like a spiderweb-Atlanta’s rail sytem travels in only two general directions: East to West and North to South (and vice versa). These train routes cover a reasonable portion of the metro area, and connect with dozens of bus routes. But even with MARTA’s relatively simple routes, it can still be quite confusing trying to navigate one’s way through the city. All information on the transit system can be found at MARTA’s website, www.itsmarta.com. Nonetheless, here is some valuable information to have when planning even a short journey via Atlanta’s public transportation system:

***AVAILABILITY– Most of MARTA’s buses and trains run seven days a week. However, there are some routes which do not offer service on either Saturdays or Sundays. These are usually the “commuter” bus routes which extend to less traveled business areas. It’s important to determine your exact point of destination, in order to know whether there is service on that particular day.

***FARES – Depending upon how often one needs to travel, it’s always a wise investment to apply “buy in bulk” principles to travel fares. Like many cities, MARTA offers many different fare programs to fit your wallet. For a set fee, one can purchase a monthly Transcard, which allows unlimited rides on the system during a particular month. This applies to both rail and bus routes. Weekend and visitor’s passes may also be purchased. It’s also important to obtain a transfer from the bus driver or at the rail station, when connecting to another route.

*** LAST CALL– MARTA’s transportation system does NOT run for 24 hours. And since there is nothing worse than missing the last bus or train returning from a destination, it’s imperative to check beforehand, what time the last route ends. This can be very tricky, when transferring from one route to another because many popular destinations are spaced so far apart. In this instance, it’s always best to track the entire journey to and fro, in order to avoiding missing that last bus or train. This can be done online, or by calling MARTA’s scheduling hotline at (404)848-5000.

MARTA’s website is extremely informational. An entire map has been provided which outlines all routes and stops for the rail system. In addition to that, all connecting bus routes for each rail station are listed. Another feature of the mass transit system is the shuttle service. There are three major MARTA shuttle services designed specifically for events occurring at various times during the year. One shuttle is for Braves baseball games. This shuttle leaves approximately an hour and a half prior to games, and runs continuously every 15 minutes, until one hour after the last “out.” There is even a shuttle to Six Flags over Georgia (Atlanta’s most popular amusement park). This is an express service which transports passengers every 40 minutes directly to and from the park. Another shuttle has been established for concert-goers at HiFi Buys Amphitheatre. This particular shuttle service runs every 90 minutes until the last fan has left.

While MARTA has proven to be a lifesaver for millions of commuters everyday, there is still room for improvement. Many passengers complain about the infrequency of certain routes. And still, there are those whose travel times are greatly increased by the number of transfers necessary to reach one destination. Within the city limits, Atlanta’s mass transit system appears to operate like clockwork. However, it is the series of routes extending toward the suburbs which have some MARTA patrons grumbling. For a practically “new” transit system, Atlanta has made some improvements to its buses and trains. No longer do bus passengers have to sit idly, watching the buildings and other cars pass them by. On the buses, there are now TV monitors displaying all sorts of useful (and entertaining) information to help pass the time. With the metro-Atlanta area growing as quickly as it is, it would not be surprising to see even more technological enhancements. However, most would agree that the greatest improvement would be an increase in routes, and a decrease in fares.

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