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Thought Leader Transit

MARTA Bus still unfamiliar


By Mary Thumati, Georgia Tech Student

A college student studying out of state without a car, a friend of mine, would be easily considered transit dependent. Because she is living on campus in Midtown, most places to which she needs to travel are within walking distance. On occasion she’ll ride MARTA rail or carpool with someone. I asked her why she never took the bus. Being interested in transportation, I was curious as to why someone made the mode choices she did. Her worries had nothing to do with fears that I had often heard: how long it would take, the comfort level of a bus, or if its route served her needs.  Her answer was simple. It’s unfamiliar.

I thought back to my own experience. I could pretty much consider myself from Atlanta. I had been living here since 1994, over 80% of my short life, yet I too was inexperienced with Atlanta buses. Growing up, “MARTA” had always meant the rail line. Getting on at Doraville and riding into the city for a Braves game or all the way to the airport to see off friends were fond childhood memories. When I moved into the city for school I remember going the opposite direction, learning the hard way that it mattered if you choose the red or gold line. As much as I loved rail, I never rode the bus. I didn’t have a particular aversion to buses; I just didn’t think to use them.

In the last few months I have been remembering to include buses as an option. I didn’t realize the extent of MARTA’s bus network until I started searching. I study transportation for a living, but am completely in the dark about Atlanta’s bus system. One day I was giving my friend a ride and was thinking if having her ride the bus would have made sense. I passed over 20 bus stops on the ride. I had driven that route a thousand times, but had never noticed the stops until I was looking for them. The lack of familiarity wasn’t due to an absence of availability, but a want of visibility. If the bus stops were more eye-catching or had real-time information, they would feel more vibrant and like an actual option.

Having discovered a newfound interest in the bus side of transit, I started exploring MARTA’s bus maps. When you glance over the full routes, there is an extensive coverage area. However, there is not a map with the bus stops, or maybe I just couldn’t find one. I used the commute trip planner online and realized that my trip would take about 75 minutes, a trip I could make with my car in just 15 minutes, a fraction of the time. Then I tried a different bus stop, which was still convenient to my starting location. My trip time dwindled down to 30 minutes. I keep iterating through different routes by slightly changing my starting points and ending points figuring that I could walk/bike to make up the difference. The bus actually was convenient but didn’t seem so because of the original shock of a 75 minute trip for a relatively short distance. To decrease the time all it took was changing the starting bus stops, but I had to do that one by one and by guessing. That process in itself took 45 minutes. If there had been a range of possible starting stops or a map of all the bus stops, that planning step could be improved.

MARTA bus is a service that exists and actually has several routes that serve the denser portion of Atlanta with several stops that gives the rider great flexibility in where they can go. It’s unfortunate that it’s nearly invisible to non-users and that the learning/planning curve for first time users is so large. With improved bus stops and bus stop information MARTA bus can be as integral MARTA rail is to Atlanta.


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