New MARTA Reach program holds launch event

The Institue recently held an opening ceremony for the unveiling of the MARTA Reach program. The intiative, fundeded by an NGF grant, aims to help with transport to and from MARTA stations. // Photo courtesy of news.gatech.edu

This semester, the Institute is partnering with Atlanta’s MARTA public transportation program to bring their newest transportation initiative to Tech students. MARTA Reach is the newest transportation service provided by MARTA, and it is intended to solve a problem many struggle with while using the rest of MARTA’s system: the first and last mile of transportation. 

The first and last mile refers to the process of getting to a MARTA station, and the process of reaching your final destination after having used a MARTA station, be that via train, bus or walking. For Tech students especially, MARTA can be both a useful tool to get from one place to another in one of the most interesting cities in the world, while at the same time providing a daunting task in trying to find a way to reach a MARTA station capable of taking them across the city. The ride hailing system was first thought of by Tech IE professor Pascal Van Hentenryck, who contacted MARTA after coming up with the idea four years ago. “One of the big issues is connecting to and from the system. First and last mile,” said Van Hentenryck. “Public transit is the most cost-effective way to move people, but in Atlanta, some people may face challenges getting to the MARTA station.” When the Pandemic struck, Van Hentenryck reached out to MARTA, who accepted his idea with open arms. After it was approved, Van Henteryck worked with his team of researchers to help develop the new system, and MARTA Reach was born. The program is centered around the use of the new MARTA Reach app. 

Potential passengers can simply log into their phones and reach out to the service. The ride transportation system will then route a shuttle towards your location to transport you to the nearest MARTA station. 

The main goal is to prevent riders from having to walk more than a mile to get to any station, which can be a blessing for some students who would have to walk upwards of 40 minutes depending on where on campus they start their journey from. 

The ride sharing service costs $2.50, making it among the cheapest possible options to get to a public transport station, dwarfing the cost of an Uber or Lyft, and runs from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, depending on the success of its test operation, those hours and dates could be subject to change. 

The service started March 1, providing transportation in “three strategic neighborhoods,” according to MARTA: West Atlanta, Belvedere Park, and Fort Gillem. These neighborhoods were chosen due not only to their lack of transportation options, but also because of the presence of many residential roads, distribution facilities, or mixed-use zoning districts that can present some logistical challenges for the public transportation service. 

Van Hentryck claims that this is the “first piloted on-demand public transit system like this in a major U.S. metropolitan area like Atlanta.” 

Even so, some students are skeptical of the utility of the system given the challenge of accessing some of MARTA’s systems in a timely manner in years past. 

The pilot itself is funded by the National Grant Foundation, with the pilot lasting from March until August. 

After this trial period, it will be up to the City of Atlanta to decide whether to continue funding the project, or to cut it in favor of other services. 

Importantly, both the MARTA staff and Institute researchers will be looking to see how many actually utilize the service, and whether or not it will end up being as effective as previously claimed. 

This data will be used to decide if the service will be kept moving forward, or if it simply isn’t as useful as its cost would indicate it may be. In addition, since Atlanta is the first city to provide this service as a public form of transportation, it could also serve as a model for other cities should it prove successful.

If you’re interested in trying the service for yourself, the service can be accessed in the App store or Google Play store by downloading the new MARTA Reach app.