A MARTA Ambassador Corps
By Corey Ray
MARTA is a remarkable service to the city which I have had the pleasure to take advantage of since moving to Atlanta for college. When I arrived from South Georgia, I was enthralled by mass transit and the benefits it brings to a thriving metro. However, I was dismayed by the reaction of many of my friends who are long time Atlanta residents who discouraged me from taking advantage of this great way to explore my new home. “MARTA is dangerous,” they warned me. “MARTA is dirty,” they scoffed. I soon tried to educate them in how safe and clean MARTA in comparison to the daily battlegrounds that are Atlanta’s interstates. Surely, I feel more relaxed while taking a nap on the train than I do charging forward on the no-man’s land of the Connector at rush hour. I still advocate for this great service but the widespread problems of perception still stick with me.
If the problem of public perception of MARTA throughout the metro area improved dramatically, we would see higher ridership. Those potential riders who are scared away by transit demonizing forces around the metro would flock the buses and rail stations once they realize its true convenience and benefit to the metro area. MARTA revenues would increase and we would see more willingness in our suburban friends to extend routes throughout surrounding counties. A simple investment in the malleable perception of MARTA could turn things around with fuller trains/buses, cooperation of suburbs, and a more connected city. Sadly, fiscal constraints currently prohibit the implementation of many of the greatest of ideas for improvement.
A corps of volunteer MARTA ambassadors, however, would result in minimal fiscal investment but massive intangible returns in regards to the perception of the system. These ambassadors would function as unpaid volunteers who are already advocates of the system. Indeed, this would simply empower those already promoting similar goodwill. Ideally, MARTA ambassadors would be present around the system and would serve as a reassurance to new riders, guides to newcomers in the city, and as highly visible figures who would keep a watchful eye on the system and report any problems to MARTA police or maintenance. They could have vests and name badges that identify them to fellow riders.
This increased presence of trained ambassadors would create an atmosphere of greater safety because they would immediately report any violations in the same way as a neighborhood watch. They would create an atmosphere that reinforces our famous Southern hospitality by guiding new riders and tourists towards their desired location while giving hints and suggestions. In short, we could quickly dissolve negative sentiments that are at the root of MARTA’s problems.
Who would these riders be? Well, we already have a core active group of MARTA lovers who do what any responsible rider should do. They report any problems and guide lost riders in the right direction as responsible citizens naturally do. This program would reward and encourage such behavior while making it visible to the broader community. These riders could be rewarded with free MARTA passes to incentivize their participation. The total cost to the system would be the low cost of subsidizing the ridership of these ambassadors and the minimal cost of vests and/or nametags. With a little training, incentive in the form of recognition and free rides, and something to identify them to the community, we could initiate an easy program that would revolutionize the way the community perceives this great service and contribute to higher ridership.