MARTA leaders: I-85 collapse could be defining moment for transit system

- For the last six weeks, since the I-85 collapse, one business in town has been booming...and that's MARTA. The system responded to the disaster, working to meet the extra demand and get commuters moving.

Depending on the day, Keith Parker says MARTA numbers were up overall anywhere from 10 to 30 percent. The Brookhaven station saw a 66 percent increase. Parker says the I-85 collapse could be a true defining moment for public transit in the City of Atlanta.

For a little more than six weeks, with one of the city's main arteries out of commission, many people turned to MARTA.

"It's been a real journey for us in some respects in that we've learned a lot about our transit system. We're excited about the fact that we've been able to attract lots of new customers, but also excited about the positive feedback we've been receiving from our ongoing customers, folks who have been with us for years and years," says MARTA General Manager and CEO, Keith Parker.

Parker says right away, they increased police patrols, added customer service agents, and ramped up parking. "The biggest challenge was simply to have enough park and ride space for the new customers that were trying us out," Parker says

A large number of riders were new to the system, and MARTA's biggest take away from the spike has been to make things easier for those new riders. "We need to send out more and better information to people to say, 'heres how to use the service, here's how much it costs and here's how long it takes, that sort of thing.' We think the more we do of that, the more we'll remove those fear and anxiety barriers that will get more folks to try the service," he adds.

More people also downloaded their app, and turned to it for the latest on parking and wait times. "I think people hate to waste time, and by giving them more information, that's what they avoid," Parker states.

Parker believes this could be a defining moment for MARTA, "I think many people who tried us out, some of them will certainly go back to driving again, but I think when you get into the realities of traffic and the grind of being in a long commute, if you can take MARTA and save a significant amount of time, reduce the stress of having to drive by yourself, then I think we'll continue to be a very good option for those folks."

Parker expects to see a dip in that increased traffic, but hopes this could be a turning point for the system to grow. "Our goal is to hold onto 100 percent of them, we know we won't have every one of them every day but certainly we want to have people have MARTA as part of their transportation solution, throughout their entire work week, work month and work year."

Parker says their biggest complaint was not having a presence in more of the suburbs. He hopes that can change one day.

Moving forward, those overflow lots that were opened will likely still be an option. MARTA leaders tell me, some of the lots were actually near capacity each day, before the I-85 collapse, so expect North Springs, Doraville and College Park to retain some of those extra parking spaces. There will also be several upcoming promotions to keep riders, including a discount on monthly passes.

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