The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) celebrated 40 years of public transportation, providing rail and bus service to a large portion of metro Atlanta.

In commemoration of this milestone, MARTA held a stakeholder reception at its Georgia State Station on Sunday, November 3, followed by a free festival and concert near its Avondale Station, with nearly 2,000 metro Atlanta residents attending the celebration.

“The Authority has come a long way in 40 years, and it felt right to celebrate with our supporters. It was a red-letter day,” said MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker, as he discussed the reception that was attended by 130 guests, including elected officials, board members, community partners and other stakeholders who have supported the Authority’s growth during its 40-year history.

“We have work to do to expand the system so that it meets the needs of a changing city and public, but yesterday was focused on celebrating our wins and appreciating the people – elected officials, board members, community partners and private citizens – who support us consistently.”

MARTA Board Chair Freda Hardage, Dekalb County CEO Michael Thurmond and Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts also attended the stakeholder reception.

“Chairing the MARTA Board of Directors is an honor, particularly during a time of such unprecedented growth and expansion,” said Hardage. “I follow in the footsteps of such prominent Atlantans as the late Juanita Abernathy and other early champions of public transit who paved the way for the MARTA of 2019. We celebrate 40 years of service and pay homage to their legacy of dedicated service. I am proud to carry on their work.”

Following the reception, guests were treated to a train ride from Georgia State Station to Avondale Station, which mimicked, in reverse, the first ride.

Georgia State and Avondale stations were both apart of MARTA’s first rail system, acting as the end of the lines between downtown Atlanta and eastern metro Atlanta.

During the commemorative ride, guests were given an oral overview of MARTA’s history. Once they reached Avondale Station, they were greeted on the platform by 70s-themed dancers, a throwback to the theme of the day, “A Ride Back in Time.”

Free to the public, the festival and the public featured music by local bands The Mar-Tans and Yacht Rock Schooners. However, attendees were given photo opportunities and participated in ping pong prior to the concert.

There was also a kids’ zone, as well as a DJ, vendor tables and MARTA-themed gifts.

Since its debut in 1979, MARTA has evolved to include four train lines with 38 stations, 338 rail cars, 110 bus routes, 550 buses, 221 mobility vehicles, and 9,818 stops, resulting in over 10 million annual passenger miles.

Because of MARTA, metro Atlanta citizens are able to travel from Six Flags Over Georgia to Stonecrest Mall (west to east) and from downtown Alpharetta to pass Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, into Clayton County (north to south).

Additionally, it connects with at least eight other forms of public transportation which includes Cobb County’s CobbLinc, Gwinnett County Transit (GCT), Georgia’s State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) Xpress, the Buckhead Uptown Connection (BUC), Emory University Shuttles, Atlantic Station Free Ride, Atlantic Station Free Ride, making it a regional hub for transportation.

While MARTA was officially birthed in 1979, the idea was initially conceived back in the 1950s with plans to move forward in the 1960s, thanks to the Metropolitan Atlanta Transit Study Commission releasing a report which recommended a five-county bus and rail system.

That report prompted proposals that led to the passing of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Act — or MARTA.

The first ride was the culmination of support from the General Assembly, which created the Georgia State Study Commission on Rapid Transit; then-Governor Jimmy Carter, who signed bills to help fund transit; the U.S. Department of Transportation, which approved a nearly $70 million grant for rapid rail and additional bus routes; and support via local referendums.

Also critical to MARTA’s story is the late Mayor Maynard Jackson, who spoke in favor of transit and recognized its significance in positioning Atlanta as a world-class city and economic epicenter.

Looking into the future, Parker says that MARTA is planning to incorporate enhancements to each station, acquire new rail cars and buses, and add a rapid transit in the Summerhill neighborhood, located south of Downtown Atlanta between the Zoo Atlanta and Georgia State Stadium (formerly Turner Field).

Additionally, he spoke of the streetcar expansion, high capacity transit commuter rail in Clayton County and bus rapid transit in Fulton County, contingent upon revenue from an additional sales tax.

Most of MARTA’s future plans are apart of its More MARTA Atlanta plan which will not only include improved connectivity, accessibility, and mobility, but it will also herald significant economic development opportunities across the city – and the region – in the years ahead.

Back in 2016, Atlanta voters approved a half-penny local sales tax to begin the largest investment in transit enhancements and expansion in four decades, referred to as More MARTA Atlanta.

The More MARTA Atlanta plan is designed to improve transit services in historically underserved communities, increasing access to employment centers throughout the city of Atlanta.

In addition to strengthening the city’s economic vitality, More MARTA Atlanta is a first step toward addressing metro Atlanta’s transportation needs amid a growing and evolving population.

According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), studies have shown that every $1 invested in public transportation generates a $4 economic return to a community.

In fact, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) projects that by 2040, the region will see an influx of 2.5 million new residents. Atlanta will soon be the 6th-largest metro area in the country.

For now, MARTA celebrates 40 years of ushering Atlantans, citizens of metro Atlanta, and millions of visitors throughout the region while looking forward to what’s in store for the next 40 years.

In addition to the celebration, MARTA commissioned local artist/activist Charmaine Minniefield to create a piece to celebrate the anniversary and symbolize the Authority’s relationship with the community.

Minniefield converted her eight by eight-foot installation – featuring the Atlanta skyline and a MARTA train – into a paint-by-number collaborative piece that festival attendees helped to complete onsite.

MARTA Facts

  • MARTA is the ninth largest transit system in the U.S. and the largest of its kind in the Southeast that provides bus, rail and paratransit service.
  • MARTA is funded by a one-cent sales tax collected in Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties; and a 1.5 cents levy in the City of Atlanta.
  • The Authority is governed by the MARTA Board of Directors which is composed of 13 voting members and two non-voting members. The voting members are appointed by the Governor of Georgia, the City of Atlanta,
  • Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties. The Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner and the Executive Director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority are non-voting members.
  • MARTA’s FY 2018 operating budget is $461.5 million and its Capital Funds Budget totals $284.7 million for capital improvements and $150.1 million for debt service for a total of $434.8 million.
  • MARTA provides direct access to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport with a rail station that is located inside the domestic South terminal.
  • MARTA operates an award-winning Transit Oriented Development (TOD) program, which encourages commercial, residential and retail development around rail stations to increase transit ridership, generate revenues and improve sustainable and affordable neighborhoods. The program includes Lindbergh City Center–its nationally recognized TOD.
(Photo: Blake Schultz/MARTA)

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