When MARTA hit its 40-year birthday in 2019, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms unveiled a new expansion plan, the “More MARTA” project. In a city that is projected to grow by millions of people over the next decade, it is vital that the city adapts its transportation network so that everyone can reap the benefits of Atlanta’s strong economy. Public transportation helps speed up economic growth and slow down climate change. It increases health and decreases poverty. MARTA helps millions of Atlantans, and More MARTA will make it even more effective.
What is public transportation good for?
Public transit like MARTA helps the economy. According to the American Public Transportation Association, every dollar put into public transport creates four dollars in economic value. Over 50,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion in investment .
Public transportation helps the environment. Cities that have public transportation networks have fewer emissions per person. The US Department of Transportation has found that every driver that switches to public transportation for a 20-mile commute reduces their carbon footprint by over 8% .
Riding public transit reduces traffic congestion. Buses and rail lines reduce the number of cars on the roads so that everyone can get to and from the city faster and more efficiently. With dedicated bus lanes and high-speed light rails, public transportation systems like MARTA decrease the amount of time it takes a person to get from point A to point B.
Public transportation improves health. Pollutants from cars cause many health issues, and the risk declines the more that people use public transportation. Public transport also increases the amount people walk and bike to and from work by at least 8 minutes. This small amount of physical activity has significant health benefits, including lowering the risk of such chronic conditions as diabetes and heart disease .
A brief history of MARTA expansion
Since MARTA was founded in 1966, it has been the center of controversy in metro-Atlanta politics. MARTA started with transit control in the City of Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb Counties. White flight from Atlanta in the 70s and 80s led to many suburban counties rejecting integration with the central city. These wealthier areas incorporated into new cities and rejected public transit options. Gwinnett and Clayton Counties, for instance, rejected MARTA plans . This has severely limited MARTA expansion into Atlanta’s suburban areas.
The tide of MARTA expansion began to turn in the 2000s, when the financial crisis raised gas prices and impelled many commuters to use trains. In 2014, Clayton County joined MARTA by approving a contract to extend service into the county. In 2019, Gwinnett County narrowly rejected a referendum for MARTA to take control of and expand Gwinnett’s bus system . Cobb County is also considering MARTA expansion, and recent research found that over 60% of residents want to increase public transit funding .
In February 2020, MARTA jurisdictions approved the 15th Amendment to the Rapid Transit Contract and Assistance Agreement (RTCAA) . This means that MARTA can continue to provide service at its current levels. It also allows MARTA to move forward on long-planned expansion in all four areas .
Why expand MARTA?
MARTA coverage is lacking in large sections of the city, precisely the areas that are needed to increase ridership even further. This leads to inflexibility and an inability to adapt to the changing transit patterns quickly enough to serve its communities.
MARTA address two key shortfalls of Metro-Atlanta, infrastructure and traffic. Counties that historically rejected MARTA are now reconsidering because public transit has the power to solve these problems and many others that plague cities and suburbs. MARTA increases job accessibility, makes the system more flexible, decreases congestion, and mitigates infrastructure damage.
Expanding coverage will help people reach new jobs. MARTA does not cover the south and west portions of the city. This leaves minorities and low-income residents unable to reach the thousands of new jobs created by companies like State Farm, NCR, and Mercedes-Benz .
Expanding coverage will increase flexibility. Right now, MARTA has four static rail lines and 110 bus routes . These services attempt to cover an area with more than five million residents and two million jobs. By expanding bus and rail coverage MARTA can introduce more of these people into Atlanta’s economy and be flexible as the city changes and grows.
Expanding coverage will reduce congestion. Atlanta was recently rated the eighth-worst city in the world for congestion. Even with lane expansion on the major highways and construction of new exchanges around the metropolitan area, traffic costs Atlanta drivers an average of $1,445 per year. With MARTA expansion, traffic can be reduced further and save Atlanta commuters time, fuel and money .
Expanding coverage will slow infrastructure decline. Like many areas in the United States, Atlanta suffers from crumbling infrastructure on the roads and in the public transit system . Because MARTA expansion reduces the number of cars on the roads, less damage will be caused to roads already in disrepair. MARTA’s income generation is used to rehabilitate MARTA stations and the roads buses use to traverse the city. Expanding MARTA will help fund infrastructure repair.
How will More MARTA work?
To increase coverage, More MARTA will construct 65 miles of bus and rail line. This will increase access to more than 350,000 jobs across the city. The project will connect 126 neighborhoods to the MARTA network, increase coverage of minority and low-income residents by 61%, and connect 77 medical facilities, 83 grocery stores, and 115 schools .
The 65 miles of bus and rail lines will also increase flexibility. The plan will expand streetcar service across Atlanta and to the west and east of the city. Light rail lines will stretch to a new station by Emory, increasing access for the more than two million patients who visit Emory Hospital and the nearby Veteran’s Medical Center each year. The new light rails will also expand Beltline coverage in every direction and open new lines in Clifton and Campbellton, which will connect residents to more than 40,000 jobs created there in the last decade. New bus lines will extend with a focus on the south and west. MARTA’s will also buy more rail cars to improve frequency and capacity to cover suburban expansion .
More MARTA will create more and better transit options to get to job centers, schools, and hospitals across Atlanta. It will reduce congestion and slow infrastructure decline across the city. More MARTA will modernize Atlanta’s transportation system and improve coverage for minority, disabled, elder, and fixed-income residents with limited access to the city. MARTA’s expansion will reduce Atlanta’s carbon footprint and decrease traffic by taking cars off the streets. It will improve health by reducing emissions and encouraging physical activity. More MARTA will increase Atlanta’s economic strength and expand people’s access to it. Overall, MARTA expansion will help Atlanta and its suburbs continue to compete on the global stage.
Bullard, R. D.; et al. (2000). Sprawl City: Race, Politics, and Planning in Atlanta. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. pp. 52–59.
Written by: Jeffrey Parmet