Public transit expo brings thousands to Atlanta

It's a big week for public transit. 12,000 people from all over the world have been in Atlanta for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) EXPO. MARTA has been center stage for the big event and FOX 5 got a first look at some of the new technology they're showing off.

Across the country, public transit numbers are down, and at this expo, everyone in the industry is looking for ways to get more people to ride services like MARTA. Technology is, of course, at the forefront of that discussion and MARTA is hoping to make it easier for riders by going digital.

Get ready, Atlanta! MARTA is opening the doors to new technology. They're introducing mobile ticketing. Soon, you'll be able to buy trips, and scan your ticket, straight from their app.

"You'll be able to use your smartphone to get on the system, to add fare to the system so that you won't have to carry a breeze card with you," explains MARTA Chairman, Robbie Ashe.

The new feature is being piloted at the American Public Transportation Association's EXPO, in Atlanta. The event draws thousands of the industry's leaders, with exhibits meant to make public transit better, safer, more reliable and more popular.

"Public transit is going through a very tough cyclical period right now," says outgoing MARTA C.E.O., Keith Parker. "Every few years, the industry sees ridership declines and almost always they are connected with gas prices.  We have now had our third year of historically low gas prices, and as a result, we are seeing a downturn. Many systems have even seen a double digit decrease."

One uptick for MARTA though came earlier this year, when a portion of I-85 caught fire and collapsed, forcing thousands to turn to MARTA.

"The goal now is to use a number of different programs to hold onto those customers we grabbed during the I-85 bridge collapse, do some more innovative things, hold onto those folks and attract even more customers," says Parker.

Parker leaves MARTA this month to head up Good Will of North Georgia. Parker spent five years with MARTA. He and his team are credited with helping to grow MARTA, and turn the troubled service around. Parker says he's most proud of helping make MARTA a factor for businesses looking to relocate and invest in Atlanta. "MARTA being in that conversation makes me extremely proud, because that had not been the case just a few years ago," Parker adds.

From the expo floor, leaders believe the future looks bright for MARTA. "We've restored our fiscal credibility, our operations, we're in a great place. We're looking to learn from our colleagues in the industry, see new technology," says Ashe.

The mobile ticketing app features are expected to be running on the MARTA app by next summer. The service is also working to get WIFI on trains and add more local art, markets, and recreation to their current stations to improve the overall experience.

The service has reported an increase in new customers attending Atlanta United soccer games, and the MARTA says more fans use public transit to get to and from Atlanta Falcons games than any other NFL team.