While transit use increases nationally, MARTA ridership falls
The Washington Post has an article today about an exciting national trend toward increased transit use in 2011. Unfortunately, Atlanta is the odd man out: MARTA was not part of the trend.
A quote from the article:
For subway systems, nationwide ridership was up 3.3 percent. At large agencies, bus ridership was up slightly, by 0.4 percent…In places such as Boston, Miami, San Francisco and Nashville, ridership is “outpacing employment.”
Then comes the bad news:
Atlanta’s transit system experienced a loss of riders in 2011 after several years of cutting service and raising fares. The subway there saw a 3.5 percent drop in ridership compared with 2010, according to the transportation association.
That, coupled with a still-struggling economy and a depressed housing market, means fewer people are using Atlanta’s buses and rail…
The picture for Atlanta’s transit use might not be as grim as it seems, though. As the article points out, Atlanta’s employment numbers were hit hard by the recession. Obviously, fewer workers means fewer transit commuters. And bus lines experienced cuts in the last couple of years, so reduced ridership was fairly expected.
Another point the article makes is that many cities are seeing a rise in transit use following the opening of new transit lines. MARTA has not opened a new rail line or train station in a very long time. Which bring us to the T-SPLOST issue: if the upcoming referendum successfully funds new transit lines for Atlanta, we would likely end up being part of the trend toward increased ridership.
Add in the Beltline's bike path (which will happen regardless of a transit line), the downtown streetcar and the bike path that will accompany that route, and you’ve got some seeds planted that will potentially encourage Atlantans to move around the city more often without a car — creating an atmosphere that could spur transit use in the future.
Though the numbers for 2011 are not encouraging, there could very well be a bright future for transit in Atlanta at some point in the not-too-distant future.
MARTA photo from Flickr user SkylineScenes