The failures of MARTA

Photo by Dani Sisson Student Publications

With substantial growth in both population and industry, Atlanta is said to be the next Los Angeles or New York City. The cultural epicenter of the Southeast, Atlanta is indeed evolving into a major hub for film companies, as well as major businesses for technology and other growing industries. 

But Atlanta will never be the next LA or NYC. Quite frankly, Atlanta is progressing on the backs of the working and middle class, and until it becomes accessible for everyone, this will hold the city back from success.

Isolating the issue to one major topic, WalletHub ranks Atlanta’s public transit, the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), as 47th in the nation. In comparison, New York ranks 7th and Los Angeles ranks 14th.

I am a student. I am an employee. Above all, I am a human being. MARTA has regularly endangered each of these aspects of my life. My commute to school is roughly three miles. Depending on traffic, it is a roughly 15 to 20 minute drive. Still, allowing for the major MARTA delays attributed to the pandemic, I leave my house over an hour early to arrive on time. 

This is a good day. On a bad day, the bus simply does not show up. MARTA has an app that allows users to see bus scheduling and track the buses in real time, but it is incorrect so often that even when it is accurate, I cannot trust it. There is also an alert system to know when routes are delayed or canceled, but again it is often erroneous. 

I understand staff shortages and feel the effects of them daily at my service job. But when I cannot predict when or if my primary means of transportation will arrive, my ability to get myself to class and to work diminishes.

I cannot afford to regularly miss lectures or more severely, exams. If I show up to work late more than six times per year, I will be fired. Consistent transportation conflicts puts those, such as myself, who cannot afford to drive a car at a major disadvantage in their livelihoods. 

It is a dangerous oversight to allow the upper class to thrive in Atlanta while the roughly 500,000 passengers who ride MARTA buses weekly are severely impacted. 

Outside of education and workplace disadvantages, my life itself has been put at risk. Between classes and extracurricular meetings, I often am unable to commute home from campus until after dark.

When buses do not show up when they are supposed to, I am left stranded at downtown bus stops — often not well lit — for hours on end. 

I am five foot two, and even with pepper spray, I cannot physically defend myself in the event that I am attacked. I try not to pay attention to past incidents of shootings and other violence on the streets on which I am waiting, but it is hard to ignore. I do not feel safe waiting for the bus late at night, but I cannot consistently plan to be home at least three hours before sundown. 

The issue is primarily accredited to a worker shortage. With the frequent complaints from MARTA bus and train operators that they are being overworked, this is not a surprise. A change needs to be implemented for the riders and the drivers alike.

After public safety, transportation is listed on Mayor Andre Dickens’ website as his second biggest issue. But in the month and half since Dickens took office, nothing has changed. 

My hope is that Dickens will advocate for the commuting students of his alma mater, for the commuting students of every Metro Atlanta institution and for every commuting person in Atlanta who relies on this system for their daily lives. 

Until action is implemented, MARTA is putting thousands of the workers who support Atlanta at a disadvantage and holding the city back from potential success.