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Can MARTA Get Smarter?

By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 6/14/2013, 6 a.m.
Gridlock on metro Atlanta interstate highways is driving some commuters to the edge.
The open seats on local trains and buses go against the national trend.

AV: What is the forecast for pricing? Will public transit prices have to increase if ridership continues to decrease? 

KP: “Although initial projections called for a 25 cents fare increase in fiscal year 2014, the good news is that we were able to avoid that in the recently adopted budget, which goes into effect July 1st. While we will only consider fare increases as a last resort, MARTA is considering a plan that would possibly increase our base fare incrementally over the next several years. If adopted, we expect that future fare increases would coincide with some of the customer improvements we’re planning to implement, such as restoring some of the transit services that had previously been cut.”

AV: What is MARTA doing to protect the environment? Do you have a clean energy plan?

KP: “Taking transit is far better for the environment than commuting by car. For example, our bus fleet is powered by diesel fuel or compressed natural gas (CNG), which emit fewer, less toxic air pollutants than conventional gasoline. As an institution, MARTA has been a pioneer in promoting a “green” business culture in all of our facilities, from our headquarters office to our bus garages. We have a robust environmental sustainability program that includes trash recycling, water recycling, motion-activated light switches, energy-saving hand dryers in our restrooms and LED fixtures that consume less electricity than conventional light bulbs.

“One of our most important achievements in preserving the environment was the completion of the solar power canopies at the Laredo bus facility in Decatur. This project was built with a $10.8 million federal grant and is the second largest structure of its kind in a U.S. transit system. Not only does it keep our buses at least 20 degrees cooler by shading them during the sweltering months, the solar panels generate enough electricity to offset about 50 percent of the Laredo facility’s energy consumption. Our projections show that by selling some of that electricity back to the power grid, MARTA can make about $159,000 a year in annual income over the project’s 45-year life span.”

AV: Figures show that MARTA ridership has fallen by 15 percent since 2001. Will trains and buses ever be equipped with Wi-Fi to attract more business travelers? Do you have any cross-promotions with sports teams or event promoters that offer discounts for MARTA customers who use public transit to attend sports games and special events such as concerts?

KP: “MARTA is actively looking at a wide range of customer amenities such as Wi-Fi, that we believe will add value to the transit experience and help us attract new ridership that expects to stay connected at all times no matter where they are. In the past, MARTA has established partnerships with a host of different organizations and businesses that has enabled us to collaboratively market our transit services for major events, concerts and festivals. We are expanding our outreach and looking for additional opportunities to co-promote MARTA as a safe, affordable and efficient way to travel to a variety of events, venues and attractions in metro Atlanta.”