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Some Perspective on the MARTA Fare Increases

May 26, 2011

A great deal of issues are being raised in regards to transportation and its future in Atlanta, and in particular, MARTA.  Issues of fare increases, crime, expansion, funding, and the referendum are all hot topics right now.  While I know many visitors to this website are returning MARTA supporters, it is my hope that some of these “Perspective” pieces, might be read by someone still on the fence.

As we all know MARTA is proposing a fare increase, which would ultimately bring the price of a trip to $2.50.  Unpleasant as we all know, no one likes price increases for anything.  Aside, people need to know where the blame for this should truly be placed and where MARTA stands in comparison to other systems in terms of funding and fare structure.  As many people have stated MARTA is the largest transit system to not receive state funding.  That creates quite a financial hole that needs to be filled.  So with that being said, where does MARTA fit in with other systems, in regards to fares, while keeping in mind that they are the only system amongst these without state support?

New York City –       Trip – $2.50                  Monthly – $104
Chicago –                    Trip – $2.25                   Monthly – $86
San Francisco –        Trip – $1.75-$4.85     No Monthly
Boston –                      Trip – $2.00                   Monthly – $59
Los Angeles –            Trip – $1.75                   Monthly $75
Washington –            Trip – $1.95-$5.00     No Monthly
Pittsburgh –                Trip – $2.25 – $3.25   Monthly – $90
                                       (plus cash surcharges)
Philadelphia –           Trip – $2.00                   Monthly – $83 – $191 (Complicated fare structure based on zones)
Charlotte –                Trip – $1.75                    Monthly $70
Atlanta –                    Trip $2.50                      Monthly $95

While at the high end on a per trip basis, its monthly value is better than New York, Charlotte, (minimal rail system hardly justifies $70 for a very substandard bus system) San Francisco and Washington, (where they use distance based fares where a one way trip can cost you as much as $5.00) and is nearly parallel to that of Chicago and Pittsburgh.  And these systems are offered state funding.   Simply put, MARTA’s fares are fair when you take into account its lack of state support and when placed in comparison with other systems and their fare structures.  So if upset is what some of us want to be over the fare increases that’s understandable, but MARTA should not be looked at as some careless corporation who is gouging for larger profits when they are in line with other systems.  If we want to place blame for the increase in general, look to your state political leaders for denying MARTA the appropriate funds and support which lead to these increases.  And if either way you want to complain and point the finger at MARTA, at least be constructive and offer alternative solutions that could help fix the problem.  You never know who might be listening. 

While I know it has been done before lets also look at the comparison of using MARTA versus owning your own automobile.  A recent study said the average household in Atlanta spends $4,200 a year on gas.  Let’s assume that their assumption is for a two car household and divide it by two.  That is still $175 per month just for fuel.  Add in oil changes, inspections, registrations, taxes, insurance, maintenance, and if your car is not paid off, a car payment.   Here is a slightly more detailed breakdown on the yearly costs of car ownership:

Fuel – $2100
Registration – $18
Insurance – 12@$50.00 (Assuming you are a very safe driver)
Oil Changes – 3@$25.00 (Assuming you only drove 10,000 miles a year)
Inspection – $20.00
Taxes – $100 (Assuming you had a rather inexpensive car)
Repairs – $500  (Assuming your car was well maintained and of good quality)
Car Payment – $200 (Assuming you drive a Kia, used, and not a Range Rover)

When broken out over the course of a year the cost of automobile ownership is $109 a month and that does not include fuel or car payment.Add fuel and that total jumps to $284 per month.  Have a car that you are still paying off?  Be prepared to shell out a whopping $484 dollars a month to move yourself around.  And those are based off some very lofty assumptions that our sample suspect would be a frugal and safe automobile owner.

Even with MARTA fare increases it is still nearly 1/5th the cost of owning your own automobile.   So before you go running off to Carmax, like I have heard so many people say they will do if fares go up, remember that the $27 more a month you would have paid on an increased monthly pass is not even a week’s worth of gas on that automobile you will probably have to pay at least $500 a month for.  And if you think the decision is really tough, ask yourself the same question I asked myself shortly after giving away my car.  Do I really want to throw away hundreds upon hundreds of dollars per month so I could sit in this traffic, pay to park, make myself frustrated, all while not getting anything personally beneficial from it?  Hmmm now what to do with all that extra money………..

10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2011 2:44 pm

    If you look north of the border where transit is supported even better by the Canadian citizens, $3.00 and $3.50 base fares (before any zones are added) are the norm. Often, it allows unlimited transfers. Ridership is high, even on Sundays on suburban BRT lines that run every 15 minutes and offer 22 hour service in an area with fairly sparse development since they operate transit BEFORE developing the land. In the city, you will NOT wait longer than 7 minutes for a bus or train unless it is after 1:30am, when service runs every half hour. I will leave that for another discussion!

    Fares only cover a small percentage of transit operations, typically between 20% and 30% in the United States depending on local laws governing transit funding and farebox recovery. When it comes down to a hard choice between raising fares and cutting service, I’d rather see increases in fares. However, I would rather see increased state funding that is dedicated and not able to be “raided” as what is happening right now in Florida and even New York. I think also, public perception of transit in the United States is unique in that since the car is king, people often look down on transit.

    Soon, with $5.00 per gallon gas not entirely far from reality, hopefully public perception would change and transit gets its deserved attention as another viable infrastructure that every good city MUST have. By the way, after converting liters to gallons and USD to CAN dollars, gas is about $6.00 a gallon in the Toronto region as of two weeks ago! European gas ranges from $7.00 to $9.00 per gallon.

    The important thing to do RIGHT NOW is contact your legislators and DEMAND that transit is to be funded properly!

  2. Vincent permalink
    May 26, 2011 2:52 pm

    MARTA has to raise fares, I get that. The problem is that giving more money to MARTA is the equivalent of burning it. They haven’t shown that they know how to run a Mass Transit company or even a lemonade stand for that matter.

    I understand that raising fare is a necessary evil since the company is losing money, but the fact is they can do a lot of things right now that will improve their service and not cost a dime.

    Will raising fare solve when a train stops for five minutes without an explanation from the operator or when a bus driver drags passengers down the street by their arms or when I have to step over human feces for a week without it being cleaned up? Will it solve the trains having the wrong names on the side of their destination all the time? Will it solve the blameless attitude that MARTA seems to have? They never take responsibility for anything and they treat their money just the same.

    They need to be restructured and start treating their paying customers with respect. If their current employees aren’t up for the task, then I’m sure the thousands of people without jobs in Atlanta would be knocking down the door to be polite and curteous MARTA employees.

    State funding will NOT solve ineptitude.

  3. GMK permalink
    May 31, 2011 5:08 pm

    I believe the price comparison of MARTA to other much more expansive transit systems is comparing apples to oranges. Most other systems are far superior in the breadth and scope of service they provide. This goes for every system you mentioned except maybe Charlotte and I cannot comment on Charlotte because I have never been there. I agree with you with regard to the lack of state funding but I am disappointed that MARTA has not explored all other options first. Raising fares should be a last resort. I have proposed several revenue generating ideas to MARTA starting with paid parking and none of them have been implemented. People who do not drive to a station are basically subsidizing those that do. I am not certain but I can only imagine that many of those driving to the MARTA stations are from outside the two county areas that contribute the one cent sales tax. I am not so sure if MARTA should just stop operating a couple days a week to really show the region how important they are. The bottom line is this region would suffer greatly if MARTA stopped operating even for a day.

    • UrbanCommuter permalink*
      June 2, 2011 7:43 am

      While yes you are right that there is no comparison in terms of the scope of coverage each system provides, that is one of the issues raised. The lack of state funding has prevented the expansion of MARTA and has forced the raise in fares. Also one of the limitations that people do not consider is how the city was planned, which attributes to some of the inefficiencies and lack of full coverage. It is not fair but that is how it unfortunatley is. Charging out of town commuters sounds great on the surface (make those that dont pay the tax on it pay more to use it) but the problem arises in that if you charge for parking, whether $2 or $5 that will give them the excuse not to ride it which equals lower ridership and less revenue. The argument that us in towners subsidize them is also great on the surface but has quite a few holes in it. I, myself, have no children, so paying for taxes for schools that I dont use is in turn causing me to subsidize the ones that do. I do not drive, so my tax dollars subsidize those that use roads. The argument can be made for nearly every service that a city, county or state provides, and clearly we can not just pick and choose which taxes and how much in fees for services we do use are paid. A more sound solution would have proposed a smaller increase ($2.25/trip, $75-$85/monthly) for Fulton and DeKalb residents and the full increase ($2.50/trip, $96/monthly) for those that live outside the region. It is easier to get people to pay a small increase vs. adding new fees. Paying for parking would also not help close that financial gap. A majority of riders are in towners, who do not drive to stations, so those paying for parking would be a much smaller fraction, resulting in minimal revenue. The free parking also boosts overall ridership as that is a perk to use the system. Operating costs of a parking lot are nearly non existent as well, so even by providing that option, there is not much of a loss to be accounted for.

      You are right, MARTA is extremely important to the region, I think that is why we are all here, but shutting it down for a day or two will not prove that point. It will prove the point of the naysayers, those that are frustrated with it, the AJC, Fox, and Channel 2 that it is not a reliable system. The only way to correct and improve any of this is to demand state funding. Creative solutions are needed in the mean time, but acquiring state funding should be the top priority of everyone.

  4. Shaene permalink
    June 1, 2011 11:17 pm

    The comparisons being made here in relation to the public transit systems in other metropolitan cities across our nation are simply unwarranted! Marta in NO way can support any level of comparison when it comes so severely below standard! The inconsistency in service, constant delays in both bus and rail service, security and dealing with these freakin’ panhandlers, and attitudes of Marta drivers does not justify any increase in fare and decrease in service. I dont have to utiluze this service on a daily basis! But from what I have experienced, just as a commuter to and from work, I am disgusted! And for those who are at the mercy of this mess of a system, I am empathetic! How dare you think that a comparison alone to other programs across the country, publicly funded or not, will in some diluted way mask your incompetence! Paying $8/gallon is worth more to me than putting up with this ridiculous and unnecessary aggravation!

    • UrbanCommuter permalink*
      June 2, 2011 11:38 am

      Wow, how dare I? Pretty easily actually, having lived in 4 of the cities listed and working extensively in 3 of the cities for months at a time I would say I have a pretty wide range of experience having used 70% of the systems I referenced. I am in no way advocating that MARTA is as nearly as expansive or provides the coverage that many of the other systems I mentioned do. Rather, its a cost comparison, while attempting to keep in mind that the deficiencies MARTA does experience (lack of coverage/increased fares) are a consequence of not recieving the traditional financial support that the other cities (most of equal size) recieve. Therefor the fare increase is needed to close that gap.
      In regards to your statements on safety, panhandling, timeliness, etc. They are entirely erroneous when compared to other systems. It has been proven time and time again that MARTA’s crime numbers are in line with all other major transit systems in this country. Panhandlers are a fact of life. You will not get on the CTA, MTA, SEPTA, CATS, or any of those other systems without experiencing it. In fact I was harassed by panhandlers significantly more on CTA, SEPTA, and CATS than on MARTA. For timeliness, being that the rail has been operating at over 97% on time, I would say that is pretty good. In fact there arent many things in life that are 97% on time. The buses, are another story, which are subject to this oppressive traffic this area suffers from, so it is at the mercy of the roads, just like any other bus system (and just like if you were driving yourself).
      While I am sure it is fun to watch Channel 2 news and read the AJC and how they take an isolated incident and make it into a “rapidly spreading problem” it is simply not true. And if you lived in a city long enough, and had a news organization that was constantly attacking their transit system, then you would see that these are not incidents only on MARTA, and most importantly not as widespread as you believe.
      Comparisons to other systems are not only helpful, but necessary to establish a benchmark of success and failure.

  5. theaccidentalcommuter permalink*
    June 8, 2011 12:08 pm

    Wouldn’t a car payment be $200 x 12? Maybe Kia approaches financing differently?

    • UrbanCommuter permalink*
      June 8, 2011 12:56 pm

      Yes, the $200 represents a monthly expense. The case was being made on a monthly expense basis.


  1. Perspective on Fare Increases: Redux « MARTA Rocks!

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