Big service improvements coming to a MARTA stop near you

And more updates from the busy transit agency

Good news, MARTA riders: Much-needed service increases will roll out over the next three days. Starting Saturday, May 17, approximately 17 bus routes will run more frequently; see a detailed list of changes here. Beginning Monday, May 19, peak-hour wait times for trains—between 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays—will be reduced to five minutes on the “trunk” (before the lines split) and 10 minutes on the “branches.” From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, you’re looking at a six-minute wait on the trunk and 12 minutes on the branches.

Red and Gold Line riders should be advised that the trains themselves will get a bit shorter, from six cars to four. “Give us a little time to adjust on our side, and we’ll give you a little time to adjust on your side,” says MARTA COO Rich Krisak. “If we have minor delays like door problems, they become a little more significant because the trains are running closer together. And we’ll cut you some slack in terms of having a little longer dwell time to make sure you can get to the train.”

Also beginning this Saturday, the agency will crack down on bus fare evaders. Drivers will make the simple yet significant tweak of keeping vehicle doors closed at rail station bus bays when they go on break. Customers who have already paid can remain on board, while new arrivals must wait outside until the driver returns. MARTA estimates fare evasion costs them $3.5 million a year in lost revenue.

In other MARTA news . . .

New budget proposed; fare hike not imminent
MARTA’s proposed 2015 budget pushes back a planned fare hike to fiscal year 2016. The budget, which allocates $416 million for operations and $470 million for capital programs, is part of a five-year “transformation initiative” that CEO Keith Parker hopes will bring about new buses and mobility vans, security cameras, WiFi on trains, new rail signage and P.A. systems, and more transit-oriented development—and still leave more than $160 million in reserves by 2018. MARTA’s board will vote on the budget next month.

Clayton expansion talks heat up
Clayton commissioners are in the final weeks of deciding what level of transit service will be put to public vote in November. According to the Saporta Report, Clayton Chairman Jeff Turner expressed his strong support of MARTA on a recent business trip to Philadelphia. Depending on whether the referendum involves a half-penny or full-penny sales tax, and whether it passes, Clayton could either reinstate bus service or add a MARTA rail line.

At a media gathering on Monday, Parker emphasized that Clayton commissioners and citizens had to decide for themselves what they wanted, but added, “We’ve had a chance to hear from folks from Clayton County over and over again, and the general sentiment was, ‘We miss the bus service we had, but it wasn’t enough even when we had it.'”

Parker leaves door open on Cobb expansion
At the same media event, Parker expressed hope that MARTA could be part of the transportation solution around the new Braves stadium. “The folks from Cobb have convened a number of meetings to talk about delivering services to that area, and we’ve been involved in those conversations,” he said. “We’re there listening and making sure if they need to work out service arrangements with us, we’ll be there to provide them.”

He added that MARTA’s improved image makes having these conversations easier. “My sense is there is a window of opportunity not just there but throughout the region. One of the really important components of why we needed to balance the budget and improve customer image, and why we needed to begin to win the confidence of the state legislature, is to change the conversation from where it was, where MARTA was just bad news and more bad news . . . Would Cobb be interested [in adding MARTA service]? I’m not sure, but I think they’d be much more confident in having that conversation with us today.”

Don’t get your hopes up for a new rail line, though. Says Cobb communications director Robert Quigley, “We do see [MARTA] as part of the transportation solution for the stadium project. We expect that they would add to or alter the frequency of bus trips to the Cumberland Station on game days. Nothing beyond that is anticipated.”

MARTA to get streetcar “up and running”
Though the Atlanta Streetcar’s launch date is still fuzzy (latest projections say August, but the city will only commit to “end of year”), Parker announced that MARTA will jointly operate the system with the City of Atlanta, at least at the outset. As the AJC’s Andria Simmons reports, the city hopes to eventually assume full control of operations, to take advantage of insurance savings. Parker, meanwhile, says he hopes MARTA will take on a larger role if and when the streetcar expands along the BeltLine.