By Maggie Lee
MARTA won’t make Downtown Atlanta streetcar fares free, as has been considered by the agency — it’ll remain $1 to ride.
“There’s an ongoing discussion about what the fare should be and how we should integrate the fare” into the MARTA payment system, said MARTA Board of Directors Chairman Robbie Ashe on Friday, just after the board unanimously approved the $1 fare.
MARTA is taking over streetcar operations and ownership from the city of Atlanta, a process that will be finished on July 1.
One concern that was raised over free fares, said Ashe, was that folks would decide to get on and ride for four or five hours at a time.
“Over time, what we’ll need to do is integrate the fare on it into the [MARTA] Breeze fare so that someone transferring from the streetcar to the main line may get credit for the dollar they’ve paid or vice-versa if they’re going the opposite direction,” he said.
He also said revenue from tickets is worth somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
So far, it’s been fairly easy to find a place to sit on the streetcar — it’s failed to attract enough riders to keep cars full since it opened in late 2014.
In 2016, the state briefly threatened to shut down the 2.7-mile streetcar line over safety issues, though those issues have since been resolved.
A federal grant paid some $47.6 million of the streetcar’s nearly $100 million price tag. City money covered about $32.6 million. The Atlanta Downtown Improvement District and the Atlanta Regional Commission funded the rest.
Streetcar operations are one of the things funded by a city of Atlanta half-cent transit sales tax. Streetcar operation money doesn’t come from the longstanding one penny MARTA sales tax paid by Fulton and DeKalb counties, or the half-penny recently approved for MARTA in Clayton.