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MARTA implements essential services plan, reducing routes during COVID-19 pandemic

Decatur Metro ATL

MARTA implements essential services plan, reducing routes during COVID-19 pandemic

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FILE PHOTO: A MARTA bus at the Decatur, GA MARTA station. File Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt


Atlanta, GA – MARTA this week scaled back its services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Transit Authority reduced the number of bus routes and doubled service on the busiest and most critical routes to keep things running for healthcare personnel and other essential workers.

“Beginning Monday, April 20, MARTA will run 40 bus routes and one new circulator service that provide transportation to 17 hospitals, 22 urgent care centers, 85 grocery stores and 16 job centers/industrial hubs,” MARTA announced. “Buses will be added to the 34 busiest routes.”

MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker said, “This Essential Service plan will serve the largest number of people and with these important destinations in mind, provide as much coverage in our service area as possible.

“This was not an easy decision,” he said. “I know it will have a negative impact on many bus-dependent areas, but it is necessary to keep MARTA operating and allow space on our busiest routes for customers to practice social distancing.”

Shelia Skinner is one of the riders affected by the changes.

“They are totally leaving out the northside of DeKalb County,” Skinner said. “I am a senior citizen that depends on MARTA. I live on the 75 bus route. It has been removed. I could walk down the hill and catch the 8 Druid Hills or the 123 that goes to the Decatur station. I could walk the other way and catch the 125 to the Kensington station. But all 4 of the buses are being taken off as of Monday. My only income is my social security check and I cannot afford to use Uber or Lyft all the time. I only go to the grocery store or into the church office.”

A spokesperson acknowledged that the changes would inconvenience people who depend on MARTA’s services.

“Reducing bus service was not an easy choice, but this public health crisis requires us to make difficult choices and adjust how we live and work to protect ourselves and others,” the spokesperson said. “We appreciate Ms. Skinner’s candor and understand her concerns. We’re asking her to bear with us while we all navigate these unprecedented times.”

Overall bus ridership has declined 40 percent, but ridership is steady on the busier routes, making those routes more crowded. Rear door boarding, and suspension of bus fares have exacerbated the issue, MARTA said in a press release.

“Despite MARTA’s implementation of several crowding mitigation efforts such as instructing operators to display a ‘Bus Full’ sign when at capacity, a customer hotline to report a full bus and request another, and seat spacing signs to encourage social distancing, there are too many instances of customers ignoring the guidelines,” the press release says.

But MARTA admits the Essential Service plan can’t fix every problem caused by the pandemic.

“This Essential Service plan will address crowding by placing MARTA’s entire bus fleet on 41 routes,” the press release from MARTA says. “Decals near the boarding door of all buses will encourage customers NOT to board a bus that has no open seats and to wait for the next bus that will be coming along in most cases within 10 minutes. The MARTA Police Department will dispatch officers to the busiest routes to assist with overcrowding, limiting the number of passengers who board, and escorting off the bus those customers who are joyriding. MPD has also created a mobile team of officers who will respond in real-time to bus operators who need assistance.”

Social distancing isn’t a problem on MARTA trains because rail ridership is down 80 percent. Rail service continues to operate on a Sunday schedule during the weekdays with a 5 a.m. start time.

MARTA says, “The Essential Service plan route list, map, and schedule can be found at www.itsmarta.com. For real time service alerts, follow @MARTASERVICE on Twitter or download MARTA’s On The Go app.”

To see a list of essential service plan routes, click here.

To see an essential services map, click here.

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