Is Atlanta’s MARTA Really That Bad?

In Atlanta, and across the globe, public transit is a mobile microcosm of both society's compassion and depravity. MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) is no different. On any given day, riding it is akin to being on a tumultuous reality show that’s equal parts American Idol, Cheaters, and the Real World. Most Atlantans love to hate MARTA, and for good reason: its scope is limited, it’s underfunded, it frequently breaks down, and its layout and design -- especially compared to other cities -- make about as much sense as the bewildering design of Atlanta itself.

BUT there are noted benefits of traveling by MARTA... most importantly, it gets you out of the city’s unquestionably hellish traffic. Despite frequent delays and maintenance issues -- on average -- the commute time is comparable to driving. That means the hour you’d spend behind the wheel screaming wild expletives at other drivers is freed up and can be spent reading, writing, listening to a podcast, whatever you want. Generally speaking, it’s also cheaper, as the rail and/or bus absorb the cost of gas, regular vehicle maintenance, and insurance associated with owning a car.


I rely on it entirely to get me to and from work. Sure, as an introvert with a wildly responsive sense of smell, it’s not always ideal (particularly the day my nose began dripping like a faucet due to the overwhelmingly pungent fog of colognes I found myself engulfed in), but it frees me from the maddening hell of Atlanta traffic. Whenever I find myself frustrated, I can look out the window at the veritable parking lot that is I-85, and smile with gratitude, as I am no longer one of those frustrated schmucks with skyrocketing blood pressure and chronic anxiety. It’s infinitely better than fighting a sea of other drivers.

If we focused on ways to improve it, rather than consistently bash it & withhold funding for it, we could get some progress made.

I see a lot of goodwill on the train as well -- the young giving up their seats to the elderly, people kindly engaging with fussy children, conversations over what books are being read or what shows are being watching. Recently, one such act of kindness went viral -- an image of an elderly man showing a young man how to tie his tie correctly. For as many arguments as I’ve witnessed on MARTA, I’ve experienced many more ethereal moments of courtesy.

Flickr/James Willamor

No. MARTA certainly isn’t perfect, but no transit system is. Despite the frustrations it can bring -- most of which are because of its unreliable schedule related to maintenance problems and long history of inadequate funding -- MARTA is a life saver. I see families who use it daily, people who rely on it to get groceries, make doctor’s appointments, get to work. Many people couldn’t function without MARTA. For that reason alone, it deserves our attention, understanding, funding, and expansion. Perhaps if we focused on ways to improve it, rather than consistently bemoan it and withhold funding for it, we could actually get some real progress made. If Atlanta truly wants to be a world-class city, we must first figure out a consistent public transit system. MARTA’s made big strides in the last few years, but there’s still a long way to go before people can count on it to save them from the infamous nightmare that is the Atlanta highway commute.

Whenever I find myself frustrated, I can look out the window at the veritable parking lot that is I-85, and smile with gratitude

Like countless other ATLiens, I love MARTA. And maybe the next time you’re stuck on 85, frustrated, running late for an important appointment or interview, you’ll be reminded of just how great its potential is, and what a truly reliable system could mean for our great city.

Sign up here for our daily Atlanta email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun the ATL has to offer.

Brook Bolen is so smart, she wrote this whole piece on MARTA. Follow her @BrookBolen for witticisms and pit bull pictures.