In case you’ve missed this entire week’s worth of Atlanta transportation news (which realistically is easy and I’m just a nerd), you may have seen some news about MARTA. Atlanta’s public transportation system has faced an uphill battle since before it even existed and this week MARTA went above and beyond, announcing a new service or future development almost every day this week. Let’s break it down.
1. MARTA Markets
MARTA officially opened the first Fresh MARTA Market a week ago on July 17th at MARTA’s West End Station after a test run the week prior. Though the West End is not technically a food desert, an area that is lacking in grocery stores and shops to purchase fresh food from, access to fresh fruits and vegetables is not widespread. It is also home to a growing consortium of local growers that are reviving the area’s historical agriculture with modern farming techniques. You could call it a paradox of sorts.
MARTA’s calling it an opportunity to increase community involvement around the station while also providing a vital service to the people and growers who live here.
“As a public transit system, it’s imperative to look at ways to improve the customer experience and to improve the community,” MARTA spokesperson Saba Long told the AJC. “And this is a great example of that.”
This is a first for Atlanta and could have momentous repercussions for Atlanta’s commuters and growers alike. If this first market continues to be so successful, MARTA could bring more markets across its system.
2. MARTA Art
Then on Tuesday, Creative Loafing reported that WonderRoot, a local Atlanta arts group, would partner with The TransFormation Alliance, “a collaboration among community advocates, policy experts, non-profit and for-profit developers, transit providers and government agencies,” and MARTA on the “En Route” program to bring local art installations to Atlanta’s transit stations. The art will revolve around issues of mobility and access to public transportation, a pretty pertinent topic in Atlanta (to say the least).
The project will enlist the skills of Fahamu Pecou, a renowned artist and Ph.D. student in Emory’s Institute of Liberal Arts, to create murals at four of MARTA’s stations: “King Memorial MARTA Station, followed by Oakland City MARTA Station, Hamilton E. Holmes MARTA Station, and a station to be named on a later date.” Pecou is known for drawing influence from pop culture and hip-hop mixed with fine art, so expect great things at King Memorial Station soon.
The En Route program will be funded by a $50,000 grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts along with support from Fulton County Arts and Culture and the Georgia Council for the Arts.
3. Uber + MARTA: The Dream Team?
To the surprise of many, MARTA announced on Thursday that the organization is partnering with Uber to help fill in the service gaps and get more people to trains using Uber, offering free rides (up to $20) for new Uber customers.
“We don’t go everywhere,” Keith Parker admitted. “There are places that don’t make sense for us to add new bus or train service. This Uber partnership is to take care of that last mile of service.”
Though this doesn’t help existing Uber customers and MARTA riders much, it is good advertising for both and public education for those who are unaware of the convenience and ease of using both Uber and MARTA. With a minimum fee of five dollars, even the shortest Uber rides cost twice that of MARTA fare, but the flexibility and convenience are more than worth it. It also makes living in Atlanta without a car, something that even two years ago was unheard of, much, much easier.
“There are places that don’t make sense for us to add new bus or train service.”
4. MARTA Actually Gets Smarta’
MARTA also announced on Thursday that it would be working to bring wireless internet connections to all of its buses, transit stations, and trains by March 2016, with aims to have 50 buses online in four to six weeks. Additionally, mobile payment options will be available next year.
Providing connectivity is vital to keep ridership growing and attract new riders; though ridership is still growing, around 7% over this time last year, Parker noted that recent low gas prices have correlated to decreases in ridership growth.
“What we have to do now is be even more creative, innovative, and aggressive about holding onto our existing customers while attracting new people,” the MARTA CEO added.
MARTA’s been grinding away at its weaknesses and improving its service since before Parker came on as GM/CEO in 2012, but his leadership has been crucial in growing ridership and putting the transit system in the black for the past three years running, not to mention making MARTA cool. With Parker at the helm, MARTA’s story isn’t the tale of the little engine that could; this train has no brakes.