“State of MARTA” address announces sweeping changes to Atlanta transit

A Marta train pulls into a station in Atlanta. Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

On Jan. 5, press gathered for the 2018 “State of MARTA” address, where changes and updates were announced. These changes are the beginning of expansions to the MARTA network Atlanta residents voted for in November 2016.

The tech crowd was delighted to learn about mobile ticketing and expanded wifi access. The biggest announcement, however, was of the complete replacement of all of MARTA’s existing train cars.

Details on the contract will be released within the coming six months, according to MARTA board chairman Robbie Ashe, but he said the project is expected to be worth nearly $1 billion. New cars are expected to improve the quality of heating and air, seating, and intercom systems.

“They will be better designed to be more comfortable for folks and move more people quicker,” Ashe said.

Not that capacity was ever an issue for MARTA rail service. According to a report by the Atlanta regional commission, MARTA saw up to a 67 percent increase in ridership after the I-85 bridge collapse with virtually no changes in service times.

Renovating train cars can be important to encourage new riders, said former Georgia congressman and Georgia State associate professor James Martin. He served on the MARTA overview committee while in the House, and said MARTA took an important lesson from the Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco.

“You had to have modern transit cars to encourage people to ride transit as opposed to driving their car,” Martin said. “It needed to be a system that was attractive.”

More deeply integrating smart technology into our transit systems also has a practical benefit.

“With smartphones, students can know how long they’re going to have to wait for a bus or for a train, so I think predictability is encouraged,” Martin said.

Predictable transit is essential to Professor Joseph Hacker. He served as the manager of Transportation Planning for the greater Philadelphia region before becoming a professor. He believes transit systems that perform reliably and frequently is a draw. One way to make transit more reliable is to increase the rate of circulation and reduce wait times.

“The number one thing that transit systems need to make themselves attractive is increasing their frequency,” Hacker said. “If we don’t need a schedule, we’re more likely to just hop on the bus.”

From speaking to his classes, Hacker got a glimpse of students’ daily decisions.

“One of the reasons they won’t take transit is, if they miss a bus, they have to wait 30 minutes,” Hacker said.

Hacker’s recommendation is more frequent bus lines. He said he admires the decision to feed bus lines into the train stops, saying that increases the convenience and efficiency of a commute.

“The SPLOST money [is] not going to be able to get some of these big ticket items,” Hacker said. “They should invest in increasing frequency on some of the bus lines.”

But apparently there is money for at least one big ticket item this year, but Atlanta residents will have to wait to find out the details.


  1. I feel marta trains actually needs to be spreaded out more instead of running them back 2 back every 2-3 min. Reason beeing, When there’s an emergency such as a terrorist on the train, Who wants to be stuck In a tunnel under ground thousands of feet with no where to go?? I understand people need to get to work on time but I would rather get there late than never. If your gonna run trains that close together, Then bring back the 4 car trains. Atleast less people would be safer. Just my opinion..

  2. The State of MARTA is D I S M A L.

    The administration of this transit system has access to any sort of info and research about systems all over this country and around the world, and after decades, the system is still sorely lacking, and somehow infested with an authority lacking progressive and simple, practical thinking.

    ” . . . mobile ticketing . . . . wifi access . . . comfort . . .modern cars . . .” are not MARTA’s overwhelming shortcomings. This eternally frustrating transit system needs to get its basics right, and it is really just this simple.

    Sure, most travelers have mobile communication, but batteries die, phones get lost or stolen . . . time is one of a traveler’s most important concerns. It is infuriatingly impossible to rely on finding an accurate clock in any MARTA station consistently. A traveler should be able to look up at any random moment and see a time of day.

    What was the curious juggling of priorities that got vending machines into the stations while service displays fail to operate consistently or accurately? I need to know when or where a train is, more than I need to get my hands on a beverage. I can find the beverage. The MARTA system and only the system, holds the secret knowledge of where this or that train is . . .

    MARTA has spent the money to plaster the inside of transport and stations with an appeal to “Ride with Respect.”

    Yet, MARTA has failed to make any progress at enforcing and actively promoting this initiative. Riders can still obtain any number of items while in transit from itinerant vendors, be solicited for help, have to listen to overmodulated radios and such. Loud radios playing is a recipe for disaster in the event emergency announcements need to be made, and riders cannot hear direction from officials.

    Communication is one of the most overwhelming shortcomings. No rider should have to have paid a fare and be All The Way Inside the station, only to learn this or that train has been hindered in some significant way. Why are riders not presented with this information Outside Of The Faregates????!! Save us some time and trouble, and help us make a decision about our further travel from that point.

    It is fine to post elevator and escalator information on a website, or transmit it directly to people’s devices, but there is no excuse for physical signs not being posted near the entrances leading to these particular pieces of equipment. No one should have to walk all the way to this escalator or that elevator, especially with hefty luggage, only to discover the people mover in question is not operating. This is especially egregious to the disabled, and its amazing there has been so little attention by the Americans with Disabilities Act association. On those fine digital displays, there is room at the bottom for an information crawl in each station, notifying riders of disrupting circumstances such as single tracking or a train hampered at this or that station . . . all this technology that could be much more productively used!

    ” . . . modern transit cars . . . ” are not a single answer to getting people on MARTA. There are too many troublesome small details MARTA has not addressed in decades that sway people’s attraction to the system.

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