The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority or MARTA is the principal rapid-transit system in the Atlanta metropolitan area and the ninth-largest in the United States. Formed in 1971 as strictly a bus system, MARTA operates a network of bus routes linked to a heavy rail system consisting of of track with 38 train stations. MARTA operates primarily in Fulton County, Georgia and DeKalb County, Georgia, with a limited amount of bus service to Cobb County, Georgia, and a single rail station in Clayton County, Georgia located at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. MARTA also operates a separate paratransit service for disabled customers. As of 2006, the system has an average of 451,064 passengers per day.
A one-way flat-rate fare currently costing US$1.75 allows for free transfers between bus and rail services. In late 2006 MARTA switched from a token-based fare collection to a new smart card fare collection system called Breeze Card. Fare reciprocity agreements also allow for free transfer to and from other county and regional transit agencies outside of the MARTA service area.
MARTA is unique in that it is the largest United States transit agency not to receive state operational funding. The system is funded primarily by a 1% sales tax levied in its service area and passenger revenue. MARTA is a public authority operated by a board of directors appointed by the City of Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties, with additional seats appointed by Gwinnett and Clayton counties and the State of Georgia. There exist several plans for the expansion of heavy rail and light rail service in the MARTA system - however, the only current active project is the implementation of bus rapid transit along a single corridor.
In recent years MARTA has been criticized for being unreliable and difficult to use and for its perceived wasteful spending. Supporters of MARTA have been critical of the lack of state and regional financial support given to MARTA. Neighboring counties (Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton) have refused to support MARTA service in their counties, and each one of these counties now has its own independent transit system consisting of local and express bus routes, some of which connect to the MARTA system. Opposition to MARTA from neighboring counties has been primarily due to MARTA's poor service, consistent record of delays, and crimes occurring on MARTA buses and rail platforms.
MARTA was originally proposed as a rapid transit agency for the five largest metropolitan Atlanta counties: DeKalb, Fulton, Clayton, Gwinnett, and Cobb counties. MARTA was formed by an act of the Georgia General Assembly in 1965. In the same year, four of the five metropolitan area counties (Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett) and the City of Atlanta passed a referendum authorizing participation in the system, but the referendum failed in Cobb County. Although a 1968 referendum to fund MARTA failed, in 1971, Fulton and DeKalb Counties successfully passed a 1% sales tax increase to pay for operations, while Clayton and Gwinnett counties overwhelmingly rejected the tax in referendum, fearing the introduction of crime and "undesirable elements". In 1971, the agency agreed to purchase the existing, bus-only Atlanta Transit Company and on February 17, 1972 the sale was completed for US$12.9 million giving the agency control over all public transit.
Construction began on the MARTA system in 1975, with the first rail service commencing on June 30, 1979. The system has since built most of the proposed rail lines, as well as stations in Sandy Springs and North Springs which were not included in the original plan. The missing rail segments include a Tucker-North DeKalb line with service to Emory University and North Druid Hills, a Northwest line with service to Brookwood and Northside Drive, extension of the West line to Brownlee-Boulder Park near Fairburn Road, extension of the Proctor Creek line to Perry Homes, and a branch off of the south line to Hapeville.
MARTA is composed of both heavy rail transit and bus transit that operate primarily within the boundaries of Fulton and DeKalb counties. Exceptions to this service area include the Airport station and of rail located in Clayton County and one bus route to Cobb County's Cumberland Boulevard Transfer Center. For fiscal year 2006, the average weekday ridership was 451,064. Overall for the year, bus and paratransit ridership was 69,194,285, while rail ridership was 69,209,027.
As of 2007, MARTA had 4,729 full and part-time employees, of whom 1,719 are bus drivers or rail operators. Rail and bus operators, station agents, rail maintenance technicians, and many other front line support personnel are represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732.
MARTA maintains its own police force which is the ninth largest in Georgia, consisting of 300 sworn officers.
All lines connect at the Five Points station. Trains are operated using Automatic Train Control, with one MARTA train operator to make announcements and operate the doors. Many suburban stations offer designated free daily and paid long term parking in MARTA operated park and ride lots. These stations also have designated kiss ride passenger drop-off parking spaces close to the station entrance.
MARTA rail cars are air conditioned steel-wheel trains which can operate at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour (113 km/h). The air-conditioning on MARTA trains is frequently out of service, causing significant discomfort to patrons. The trains are powered by an electrified third rail and can be operated in any combination from 2 to 8 rail cars.
The MARTA rail car fleet is currently composed of three different classes of married pair rail cars:
MARTA has entered a contract with Alstom to rebuild all CQ310 and CQ311 cars (238 rail cars in total). The rehabilitated cars will feature upgraded passenger amenities and upgraded propulsion and train control hardware. The first rehabilitated cars began service on March 12, 2006. The refurbishing program will last until 2008 or 2009.
MARTA's bus system serves a wider area than the rail system, serving areas in Fulton and DeKalb counties such as the cities of Roswell and Alpharetta in North Fulton, along with South DeKalb. As of 2006, MARTA has 554 diesel and compressed natural gas buses that cover 120 bus routes (including 5 blue flyer express shuttle routes) which operated 25.9 million annual vehicle miles (41.7 million kilometers). Effective November 20, 2006, MARTA now has one bus route providing limited service in Cobb County (Route 12 has been extended to Cobb County's Cumberland Boulevard Transfer Center). All of the MARTA bus lines feed into or intersect MARTA rail lines as well. MARTA also runs shuttles for special events, such as the Peachtree Road Race and Atlanta Braves baseball games. MARTA shuttle service is also available to Six Flags Over Georgia during the park's summer season.
In addition to the free parking adjacent to many rail stations, MARTA also operates five Park and ride lots serviced only by bus routes (Windward Parkway, Mansell Road, Stone Mountain, Barge Road, and South Fulton).
For some time, MARTA had "secret" bus routes in the 700 series. These routes were designed to connect maids, home health care workers, and nannies from MARTA rail stations to their work sites. These routes were not officially noted in any system map except for a small footprint instructing people who needed transit service in that area to contact Customer Information. No schedules were publicly distributed, and no information was published on the web site. In 1999, the routes were officially "declassified" and information was published. As part of system-wide service cuts, the 700 series routes were eliminated in 2002. Despite repeated requests from the public, MARTA refuses to publish a system-wide map on its website and MARTA refuses to distribute printed maps of the system.
The average cost to MARTA for providing a one way trip for an individual paratransit passenger is US$31.88. This is much greater than the US$3.50 fare the paratransit rider is required to pay. The Americans with Disabilities Act forbids MARTA from charging a paratransit fare more than twice the normal fixed route fare.
A 2001 federal civil lawsuit, Martin v Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, was brought by several disabled riders who alleged MARTA was violating the ADA by failing to provide: bus schedule and route information in an accessible format, buses with working wheelchair lifts, stop announcements on rail and bus routes, and adequate staff to schedule and provide on-time paratransit service. The district court ruled in 2002 that MARTA had violated the ADA and granted the plaintiffs an injunction requiring MARTA to improve service to the disabled.
As of January 2008 the one-way flat rate fare for MARTA is US$1.75. However, MARTA charges a $0.50 fee for issuing new limited-use Breeze tickets. Extended use Breeze cards are $5 and include two one-way trips. Passengers over 65 and Medicare recipients are eligible to receive a discounted fare of $0.85. A one-way paratransit fare is $3.50 (effective January 2006, disabled riders who are paratransit eligible can ride fixed bus and rail routes for free). Ten one way trips can be purchased for $17.50, and twenty one-way trips can be purchased at a discount for $30. MARTA also offers unlimited travel through three different pass options: 7 day pass $13, 30 day pass $52.50, and a weekend pass (Friday through Sunday) $9. Additional discounted pass programs allow for university students and staff to purchase monthly passes for $40 and $49.50, respectively. There are also weekly passes for K-12 students available for $10. Additional discounts are available to corporate partners who sell monthly MARTA passes to employees and also to groups and conventions visiting Atlanta. Some employers (at their own expense) also provide reduced cost or free MARTA passes to employees to encourage the use of public transportation.
Special routes, such as the Atlanta Braves shuttle, and the Six Flags Over Georgia shuttle service, and the Lakewood Amphitheatre (formerly HiFi Buys Amphitheatre) used to have an additional a surcharge for each one-way trip. The surcharge was eliminated in 2007 for both the Braves shuttle and Six Flags shuttle, however a $1 surcharge remains for the Lakewood Amphitheatre shuttle.
MARTA finished implementing the "Breeze" smart card electronic fare collection system in September 2006, replacing the previous token-based fare collection system. The new Breeze Card allows riders to load money on the card for use over time, and to add weekly/monthly passes that are not fixed to a calendar period. The system uses a two card scheme: the Limited-Use Ticket is used by people who are visiting and other light users, and is composed of coated paper around the RFID antenna. The Extended-Use Card is meant for those who use MARTA frequently and need to load time-based passes. The new Breeze fare gates are designed to help prevent fare evasion; with the older fare collection system fare evasion was much easier and was estimated to cost MARTA $10 million per year. Other connecting transit systems such as GRTA Xpress, CCT have adopted the infrastructure, and are currently building implementation plans.
MARTA stopped selling tokens after the Breeze conversion. Tokens are no longer accepted as payment but can be transferred to a Breeze ticket, without incurring the $0.50 fee, at a Breeze ticketing machine.
The current 1% sales tax was set to be reduced to 0.5% in 2032. In early 2007 MARTA made a request to the City of Atlanta, DeKalb County, and Fulton County to seek a 15 year extension of the 1% sales tax from 2032 to 2047, with a 0.5% sales tax from 2047 to 2057. This is the fourth time in its history that MARTA sought the extension, the most recent in 1990. MARTA said the commitment to the tax is needed for the agency to secure long-term financing in the form of bonds to pay for any future expansions to the system. The resolution called for four new routes: bus rapid transit from H.E. Holmes station to Fulton Industrial Boulevard, bus rapid transit from Garnett station to Stonecrest Mall, transit for the Beltline, and a direct transit link from Lindbergh Center to Emory University. To approve the tax extension 2 of the 3 government agencies needed to agree to the extension. In March 2007 the City of Atlanta voted 12-1 to approve the extension. In April 2007 the DeKalb County Commission also approved the sales tax extension. Some Fulton county officials were opposing the sales tax extension on the basis that the proposed service expansions did not include previously proposed expansion of the North Rail line to Roswell and Alpharetta in North Fulton County.
MARTA has never received any operational funding from the State of Georgia, making it the largest public transportation agency in the United States and the second largest transit agency in Anglo-America after the Toronto Transit Commission, not to receive state/provincial funding for operational expenses. The State of Georgia has however contributed limited funds for MARTA's capital projects (for FY 2006 this amount was less than 1 percent of the total revenue sources for capital funds).
Positions on the MARTA Board of Directors are directly appointed by the organizations they represent. Although the state of Georgia does not contribute to MARTA's operational funding, it still has voting members on the MARTA board. A similar situation exists for both Clayton and Gwinnett counties; as a consequence of passing the authorization referendum but not the funding referendum, Clayton and Gwinnett Counties have representation on the MARTA Board of Directors without paying into the system. This situation became controversial in 2004 when Gwinnett's representative Mychal Walker was found to have accepted US$20,000 from a lobbyist trying to secure a US$100,000,000 contract with MARTA. Despite the controversy, as well as a MARTA board ruling that Walker violated the MARTA ethics policy, the Gwinnett County Commission initially failed to remove Mr. Walker from his position on the MARTA Board. Eventually the state legislature was called upon to change the law governing MARTA's Board to allow for the removal of a member whose appointing county did not act on a request for removal. Before the new law could be used, Mr. Walker was arrested on an unrelated child support violation, which resulted in his firing by the Gwinnett County Commission.
Another board member controversy occurred March 13, 2007, when Chairman of the MARTA board, Edmund Wall, was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for public indecency on allegations of having sex in a bathroom stall with a man he met over the Internet. Wall claims he is innocent of the misdemeanor charge. Although Wall initially said he would not resign his position, on March 16, 2007 he resigned his post as Chairman of MARTA's board of directors. Wall has retained his position on the Board.
The highest position at MARTA is the General Manager/Chief Executive Officer. In October 2007, Dr. Beverly A. Scott was named the new General Manager. Prior to joining MARTA, Dr. Scott served as General Manager/Chief Executive Officer of the Sacramento Regional Transit District. She has over 30 years of experience in the transportation industry. Prior to Dr. Scott, MARTA's General Manager was Richard McCrillis from 2006 to 2007. In October 2007, McCrillis retired after 22 years of service at MARTA.
The Georgia General Assembly has a standing MARTA Oversight Committee, which is frequently abbreviated MARTOC. This committee is charged with financial oversight of the MARTA organization. The current chairperson of the committee is Representative Jill Chambers.
MARTA has had two fatal accidents which resulted in a formal investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. On February 25, 2000 a train near Avondale station struck two automatic train control technicians who were inspecting a relay box; one was fatally injured and the other technician suffered serious injuries. The workers had failed to apply for a safe clearance restriction for the track work. In addition, the rail system center controller, who was aware of the workers, failed to notify train drivers of the technicians' presence. A second accident occurred on April 10, 2000 when a train struck a bucket lift containing two contract workers at Lenox station; the workers were fatally injured. Although the MARTA employee who was accompanying the workers notified the rail control center of the work over the track, the control center employee failed to block off the section of the track in the automated rail control system and also failed to notify the unscheduled southbound train of the workers' presence. In 2001 MARTA settled with the families of the two killed workers for US$10.5 million.
In addition to these accidents MARTA trains have derailed four times in recent years. The most recent incident occurred at the Medical Center station on December 4, 2006 when a train carrying passengers was moved over a switched portion of the track. No injuries were reported. A previous derailment occurred in July 1996 during Atlanta's hosting of the Olympics. A paired car on a train which had developed mechanical problems was uncoupled from other cars at Indian Creek station (the last station on the east line). The train began rolling, crashing through the bumper at the end of the rail line and running off of the track. The train operator, the only person on board, received minor injuries. In June 1996 a minor derailment occurred at the junction between the North and Northeast lines; MARTA estimated 150 people were aboard. The derailment occurred when a rail supervisor told the train driver to reverse the train after realizing the train had gone the wrong way at a track split; a MARTA investigation of the incident showed the derailment caused $125,000 of damage to the train and track and caused injury to 16 passengers. And in August 1994 a minor derailment occurred at a switch between Candler Park and Inman Park. Approximately 20 passengers were on board and no one was injured.
On December 31, 2007 MARTA had three separate escalator accidents that injured at least 11 people. The incidents occurred as large crowds were going to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Two escalators failed at Five Points station, and one escalator failed at Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center station. MARTA initially blamed the incidents on rowdy patrons jumping on the escalator. However, a subsequent formal investigation showed that the braking systems and a weak motor were to blame for the incidents.
In September 2008, a Fulton County jury awarded a woman $525,000 for injuries received in an accident at the Peachtree Center MARTA stop. MARTA has been criticized for its escalator maintenance policies after recent injuries due to escalators overloading, but has discussed plans to improve its policies and regulate passenger loads with posted station agents.
Additionally, several traffic corridors are currently being studied by MARTA for possible system expansion. The Belt Line is a current proposal for the use of light rail and possibly bus or trolley service on existing railroad right of ways inside the perimeter. The conversion of existing rail right-of-way to the proposed Belt Line also calls for the creation of three additional MARTA rapid transit stations where existing lines intersect the Belt Line at Simpson Road, Hulsey Yard, and Murphy Crossing. Another proposed expansion route is an extension of heavy rail service further north from North Springs station to Windward Parkway. Extension of the North line is estimated to cost US$100 million per mile (1.6 km). Potential Sites (along near GA 400) include Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell and North Point Mall, Old Milton Parkway, and Windward Parkway in Alpharetta. Expansion of MARTA service to Fulton Industrial Boulevard through the use of both heavy rail extension and bus rapid transit has been proposed as an extension of the West Line. Bus rapid transit from downtown Atlanta to the Mall at Stonecrest has been proposed to provide additional public transit on the I-20 east corridor. Finally, a proposal has been made to enhance service between Lindbergh Center and Emory University.
Additional expansion plans for MARTA and other metro Atlanta transportation agencies are detailed in Mobility 2030 a timeline by the Atlanta Regional Commission for improving transit through the year 2030.
The composition of the MARTA Board of Directors is also criticized. Although the State of Georgia, Gwinnett and Clayton Counties do not support MARTA financially, they still have positions on the MARTA Board of Directors. Critics have termed this practice as "representation without taxation. Additional criticisms of the MARTA Board is that they are not directly elected by voters, and thus not accountable to the citizens whom they represent. Furthermore, the Board members are also criticized for not being regular users of MARTA and thus are not actually aware of the concerns of MARTA commuters.
Due to its limited funding from Fulton and DeKalb counties, MARTA has struggled for many years to provide adequate service to the metropolitan area. As a result, MARTA has gained a notorious reputation throughout the metro Atlanta area for being ineffective and inconvenient. Many people who own cars avoid using the system altogether while residents in suburban areas usually drive their car to a MARTA rail station (instead of using bus service) if their job is near an adjacent one. MARTA's financial structure (being tied to a 1% sales tax) has forced the agency to cut services during times of economic depression, further resulting in complaints about the inconvenience and inadequacy of MARTA services.
Although surrounding counties do not pay for MARTA, many of their residents use MARTA by driving directly to a MARTA station or by using a county or regional bus system which connects to MARTA. A license plate study from 1988 to 1997 showed that 44 percent of the cars parked in MARTA park-and-ride lots were from outside of Fulton and DeKalb counties. Current fare reciprocity agreements also allow non-paying counties to provide bus service for their residents which provide free connections to MARTA (see Fare reciprocity). According to a 2000 MARTA ridership study, 12 percent of MARTA riders live outside of MARTA's service area.
According to Federal Transit Administration records MARTA's crime statistics are in line with those of similar-sized systems, such as Bay Area Rapid Transit in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, high profile crimes on or near MARTA have created the impression with some that MARTA is unsafe and lacks a strong police presence. In the past four years (2004-2007) MARTA has had 3 homicides and 3 rapes. The most common crime reported was larceny. The most common area for crime was MARTA's rail service, followed by MARTA's parking lots. For fiscal year 2007 MARTA had a crime rate of 2.58 percent per 1000 riders.
Suburban counties have opposed expanding MARTA on the basis that it would lead to increased crime, as well as the cost of expansion and the lack of perceived necessity to areas currently outside MARTA transit. It is alleged that because MARTA's service area includes some of Atlanta's most economically depressed and high crime neighborhoods, expansion of MARTA would supposedly allow crime to spread to suburban areas. This is frequently argued with the success of the Washington Metro, which provides services in economically depressed areas with limited problems spreading into suburban Washington D.C. stops. However, since MARTA and METRO are enforced differently, with METRO having stricter laws and a larger police force, the argument has failed to assure a significant number of suburban citizens and MARTA has failed to get approval of a single expansion plan.
On September 18, 2008, a MARTA employee was carjacked near the Doraville station and a MARTA vehicle was stolen. The carjacking suspect was subsequently killed by police.
As is typical of rail transit in the United States, MARTA's rail lines have two parallel tracks. Any train failure or track work results in shared use of the other track by trains going opposite direction, a situation known as single-tracking. There are no plans at this time to expand the number of tracks. MARTA is currently nearing the end of a complete replacement of tracks on all rail lines. Over the past few years, this replacement work has caused the agency to implement single-tracking on the weekends, which in turn has caused weekend patrons to experience less frequent service.
In the Summer of 2006, as a result of high summertime temperatures, many MARTA rail cars became overheated, damaging onboard propulsion equipment. As a result many trains broke down and had to be taken out of service for repair. This was further compounded by the fact that at any given time up to 50 older rail cars are out of service as part of MARTA's rail car rehabilitation project. To compensate for fewer cars MARTA shortened trains from 6 cars to 4 cars in length. Sometimes this resulted in almost half of the trains being shortened, resulting in crowded conditions for passengers.