MARTA ending bus fares, changing services during coronavirus outbreak

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is suspending bus fare collection and making service plan changes to both their bus and rail operations starting on Thursday to address the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement Wednesday, MARTA said that it is making changes to address a "dramatic" decline in ridership and revenue during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Beginning on Tuesday, MARTA bus riders will enter and exit using only the bus' rear doors. This change will not affect customers who need the accessibility ramp.

Because the farebox is located at the front, MARTA will be suspending all far collection on buses. For transfers from the rail system, fares will be paid at the rail station.

The transportation company will also be closing public restrooms at rail stations that are described as being "low-utilization" starting on Thursday. The restrooms at College Park, Doraville, Five Points, H.E. Holmes, Indian Creek, Lindberg, and North Springs rail stations will remain open.

Learn more about the coronavirus outbreak in Georgia

“MARTA stands by our role as a provider of essential infrastructure. Our frontline employees are everyday heroes who drive buses, run trains, protect our customers, and clean vehicles and stations," MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker said in a statement. "I applaud the fortitude and resilience they show every day by coming to work despite the anxiety and uncertainty that has become the new normal,”

Due to a decline in ridership, MARTA will also reduce bus service by around 30 percent starting on Monday, March 30. While all bus routes will still operate, officials say there will be fewer buses on each route. An exception will be made for MARTA Routes 15, 39, 5, 121, 196, 73, 110, 78, 83, and 89, which officials say have the heaviest riders and will have additional buses to help riders socially distance.

Rail service will also start operating on a weekend schedule starting on Monday. Officials say the start time will remain the regular weekday time. All Red and Gold Line trains will also change to go to the airport. Green Line trains will turn around at King Memorial.

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Transportation officials said they will be closing the Mercedes-Benz/State Farm Arena/GWCC rail station "due to extremely low ridership." Starting Monday, trains will not stop at the rail station.

"MARTA will perform deep cleaning, repair work, painting, and other small projects at the rail station during this temporary closure," officials said.

Public health officials have urged social distancing to slow down or stop the spread of coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults who are 60+ and people with serious medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, are at higher risk of getting very sick from coronavirus. 

Georgia Coronavirus Hotline available between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.: 844-442-2681

Since the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp has issued a "shelter-in-place" order for groups "at-risk." Groups affected by the order include people living in longterm care facilities, have chronic lung disease, are undergoing cancer treatment, have a positive or are suspected to have a positive test, or who have been exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

All public schools in the state were ordered closed until March 31. Public gatherings have also been limited to no more than 10 people in order to prevent the spread of the virus. The executive order will also enforce a statewide closure of all bars and nightclubs.

Coronavirus shelter-in-place orders: 'At-risk' groups in Georgia; all residents in Atlanta

Mobile testing sites have been deployed in certain regions of the state, with more on the way. Kemp has said he does not plan to impose any statewide curfews, business closures or forced quarantines. 

Though the governor has not declared a state of emergency for all of Georgia, many local municipalities have.

Monday evening, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an executive order asking all residents of the city of "stay at their place of residence" for 14 days starting at midnight on March 24. The order also urges homeless people to seek out shelter and direct "government and other entities to provide it."

"Based upon our density & specific needs/concerns in Atlanta, I’ve signed a 14 day Stay at Home Order," the mayor posted on Twitter.

Atlanta and multiple suburbs have banned in-restaurant dining, limiting eateries to takeout and delivery service, as well as closing bars, theaters, bowling alleys and other gathering places. Tybee Island banned visitors to beaches, as well as the open consumption of alcohol.

Georgia has opened at least 13 drive-thru locations for virus testing and plans more. Kemp says priority for tests is being given to those at highest risk — the elderly, people who already have chronic illnesses, those in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities and first responders such as paramedics.