Marta, Marta…the real thing

I spent a few days in Atlanta last week (was it last week?  It was recently), and I bought myself a three-day pass for MARTA, their transit system, which combines buses with a kind of mixed-subway-commuter-rail line.  It’s below and above ground and mostly above grade (above the streets), so you’re never stopped for car traffic.  Once it gets under ground, it’s pretty far underground, at least in parts, so if you’re disabled, that might be a bit of a hassle.

I was able to buy my pass at a machine at the Atlanta airport rail station, which was very convenient to find from the main terminal/baggage claim.  The pass for three days came to $12.50.  Given that each fare was going to be $2 (correct change, of course), I am sure I got a bargain; I rode at least twice a day, if not more, and for me, I really want the convenience of having the same card every time rather than always being sure I have the correct change.  So, I was glad to see that.  I didn’t fully investigate where besides the Airport rail station I could have gotten a pass, but that was immaterial to me.

The rail rides were generally efficient and enjoyable.  Each station had an electronic display showing when the next train would arrive, which was very helpful–it helped me decide whether to make a mad dash for a departing train or not.  At one point, though, the display erroneously told me I would miss my flight if I waited for a train, and I panicked, but it ended up arriving much earlier than the display predicted.

The trains stations were fine–not too littered or dirty.  Overall, it was a pleasant riding experience.

The buses were also pleasant to ride.  They had a really helpful map on a TV screen showing where we were on the route, which helped a tourist like me immeasurably.  They stopped pretty frequently, which is something of a catch-22 for buses in my mind–really frequent stops could make it so that more folks ride because the stop is closer for them to reach, but it could also hamper ridership when people think they’re moving at a snail’s pace.  I didn’t mind it, but my rides were shorter distances.

One huge factor for me with MARTA was its connection to Google Transit.  That meant I could use my phone to track which bus or train to take at what time, rather than either downloading and printing schedules or finding a wifi station or business center, looking up the schedule, and memorizing it or jotting it down.  It’s really empowering to be standing somewhere random, have your phone find you, and then have it tell you how and when to get where you’re going.  I applaud MARTA for its use of Google Transit and its own trip planner.

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