The secret to enjoying MARTA, or most any transit system is to learn how it works and to accept that you are not in control. Once you accept that Marta runs on time tables, it’s actually a GREAT public transit system.
Now that I am familiar with the system and have Google Maps (which is 75% accurate) and ride the same routes every day, Marta is super convenient for me (as long as I am on time) and I’ve even found that driving doesn’t make my trip to work much short, and almost always makes it longer.
At work (Lenox Station) the train comes every 15 minutes on the hour during commuting hours. After 7pm, it switches to 20 after. The train on the Buckhead line is set to reach Lindbergh 3 minutes before the the Gold line after commuting hours, etc.
Every year, the legislature and Marta advisory board hold meetings trying to use their limited budget, which basically always results in a price increase around the first of September. The prices aren’t bad – especially coming from me w/ employer paid and discounted passes – but until this upcoming fee hike, I can travel to and from work in ~8 minutes (station to station) for the cost of a parking pass.
What I have found very interesting though, is that Marta has their KPIs available on their web site. So we can see exactly what the target and actual costs per rider trip on a train and bus are. Trains are very cheap and busses are a bit more expensive. Here are some charts / stats from the recent month and more can be seen at http://itsmarta.com/kpi-home.aspx
This is frustrating then, that they are increasing the “per trip” cost for trains from $57 / month (or $2 a trip ) to $92 / month (or $2.50 a trip) as I take 40 total trips every month. This means that my per trip payment will literally be completely covering my short trip and subsidizing some of the bus ridership. All of this combined means that Marta should not have non capital expenses that aren’t covered by budget IF an equal number of people ride the train as the bus.
My experience also suggests that more people ride the trains than the bus. Everybody that I work with that rides Marta rides the train for their trips. One guy that has experimented with Marta road a short bus trip. When I started, I would ride the bus for 13 miles and then ride another 13 by train. [ That bus was very much on time and often connected well with the train]
In the past 6 months, I have both hosted and stayed in the San Francisco Metropolitan area, this provides for some interesting comparisons.
- Marta is cheaper – Going down a tunnel costs almost the same as driving in San Francisco!
- Marta trips are standardized at $2 a trip ($2.50) San Francisco Bus trips are standard, train trips are not. [Ironic because the variable costs of bus trips vary more]
- Marta data is better available online – despite Bart bragging about their API access and being in the valley – their usefulness on the train was limited.
- Marta is Smaller, but easier to figure out. Two (and a half) lines seem to make it easier to navigate in Atlanta.
- BART has express trains! I hope Atlanta will consider something for this.
- BART has signal repeaters in their stations so that I had full 3g access all of the time on the train.