The Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is expected to restore its bus service to all 110 routes April 24 after it was decreased drastically in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The previous April, the transit organization reduced its service to only 41 routes as part of its essential service plan due to the outbreak, and since then has restored a dozen routes to increase service to 53 total. As such, it’s received complaints from residents across Fulton County and even their cities’ mayors — from Alpharetta to Palmetto — about the impact that decision has had on them.
“We’re keenly aware of the feedback we’ve gotten from constituents about the suspension of several bus routes,” MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeff Parker said. “We’ve been implementing several safety measures so we can (protect riders from COVID-19).”
Parker announced the news during his quarterly briefing at the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ March 17 recess meeting, which was held virtually due to the pandemic. He said MARTA’s 540 buses each have undergone several health and safety measures to comply with CDC guidelines.
Fulton’s cities are expected to exclude a MARTA/transit option in the county’s second transportation special-purpose local-option sales tax, a 1% levy, when it sends their project lists to the state in May to get it placed on the ballot for approval via a referendum in the November election. That prompted District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann and County Manager Dick Anderson, at the board’s March 5 mayors’ meeting, to pitch for reducing its share of the tax from 0.25% to 0.10% as a way for their mayors to change their mind on the issue.
With that in mind, Parker said the authority is seeking alternative funding sources, including federal monies, non-sales-tax revenue options with interested cities, such as a tax allocation district, a special services district, a ground-lease revenue bond and a TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) loan, which could be secured by Fulton general funds.
He also said MARTA and The ATL (Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority) are in talks with the cities along Interstate 285’s top end, where express lanes are planned, about conducting a study to examine adding a bus rapid-transit (BRT) component to the project. A similar BRT strategy is already in place for the proposed Georgia 400 express lanes plan.
The study area would be along 285 from Cumberland Parkway in Cobb County to Northlake Parkway/Lavista Road in DeKalb County.
“Like many projects, we have some funding limitations, but we plan to get funds for that,” Parker said.
Collie Greenwood, MARTA’s deputy general manager, talked about the authority’s plan to redesign its bus network.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “We’ve been listening to voices calling for a top-to-bottom bus network redesign. We’re targeting people who live within a 15-minute walk of bus stops.”
Greenwood added MARTA looked at riders’ time and the value of their time and how long it takes to get from one place to another. The agency also used granular data to determine where an area’s jobs are and redesigned its bus routes based on where businesses/offices are located.
Greenwood said there are two bus design goals/options: ridership (running buses along main roads/highways) and coverage (running buses both on main roads and highways and also on side streets), and MARTA’s network redesign plan is to merge the two options.
Regarding the plan, this meeting was part of the first round of jurisdictional briefings, and technical workshops start March 29. Stakeholder engagement opportunities, workshops and public meetings are planned for later this spring. Greenwood said MARTA plans to have the plan adopted by the end of the year and implemented in early 2022.