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Keeping MARTA as MARTA

June 3, 2011

Remember the “My Delta” campaign to prevent Delta from being acquired in a hostile takeover from US Airways?  I think it’s time for that kind of campaign for MARTA.  There are a lot of people talking about how a regional transportation authority should be created and all of the existing agencies (CCT, C-Tran, GTA, GRTA, and even MARTA) should be rolled into this new authority.  Sounds great!  Less acronyms to remember, hopefully more continuity between systems, it just seems so efficient.   But….. that’s why the METROPOLITAN Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority was established in the first place.  Notice the emphasis on the word metropolitan.  That was the original goal, an organization that would serve the metropolitan area.  But unfortunately, some geniuses who thought oil was free, a renewable resource, and a right handed down in the constitution and the bible, decided they would opt out.  And now, here is the big surprise, we found out that the current model of suburban living and single occupant transportation was not sustainable.  Shocked, just shocked I tell you.

So now these counties are expressing interest in transit, but really don’t want to be tied in with MARTA.  I think I would understand that, if there were certain deficiencies to MARTA that were MARTA’s fault.  But alas there are not.  You can scream inefficiency all you want, but don’t think for one second that a newly formed authority wouldn’t have the exact same inefficiencies.  In fact you will be hard pressed to find any business that is free from inefficiencies.  And I have yet to meet someone who can actually give me an example of what the inefficiencies are; instead it’s like a buzz word that is used to mask their real distaste for MARTA, regardless of what it is.

But let us pretend that this new transit authority was created, and we will call it ARTA (creative I know).  It should be a rather smooth transition.  I mean the only work involved would be to repaint the buses, repaint the trains, change every single sign at every bus stop, every sign at every train station, park and ride, facility building, directional street signs, company cars, letterhead, business cards, promotional materials, posters, system maps, websites, safety ads, police equipment and uniforms, employee uniforms, breeze tickets, breeze cards, breeze machines, fare gates, and I am sure I had to leave out a few things.  So after all that has been changed, the suburbanites are happy because now they are riding ARTA and not MARTA.  Problem solved.  Everyone is happy and everyone is taking transit.  We are basically NYC or Portland.  We have abolished the horrible name of MARTA and all the perceived problems that went along with it, except…….

The trains and the buses are going to the exact same places they were before, and the exact same people that rode MARTA are going to ride ARTA. And while I know anti-MARTA people claim they don’t like it for inefficiencies, crime, safety, etc. (of which all theories have been disproven) there is a nagging part of me that informs me otherwise.  It is a socio-economic issue.  It is a race issue.  It is an anti-Urban issue.  And these “concerns” will not be changed because of a logo change, and even if everyone started riding it, just wait until the first crime incident occurs, and then we will have to go through this whole process again. It is a band aid response.  It’s similar to the move the city made a few years back to curb prostitution on Stewart Avenue.  The solution was to rename it Metropolitan Parkway, as if the hookers and prostitutes would just stop going there, hell it probably helped their business.  Metropolitan sounds swankier than Stewart.  In fact if you do a quick search on the area, it actually becamse worse after it was renamed.

Both of these are soft responses to the problem.  It is the magic trick of action while being totally inactive.  It is time for the surrounding communities to stop thumbing their nose up at Atlanta and realize that if it wasn’t for Atlanta there would be no suburbs.  And likewise for the urban dwellers, Atlanta wouldn’t still be a city if it wasn’t for those that lived in the burbs.  Reinventing the wheel is not going to magically make the flaws that MARTA does have disappear.  Instead these communities that are now pushing for mass transit should embrace MARTA, seamlessly integrate themselves into it, and use their knowledge and expertise to fix the issues that they may perceive MARTA to have, not to slap a new sticker on the side of the train and assume that they will never run into a panhandler again.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2011 1:43 am

    The name has a stigma and that’s not going to change. I think it’s time for a total rebrand. I’m a fan of ARTSY… Atlanta Regional Transportation SYstem… or just ART.. Atlanta Regional Transit

    Tie the whole thing together with a theme around the arts and engage local business, schools, and citizens to participate. I envision something similar to Art on the Beltline except on a MUCH larger scale. Buses & Trains would be wrapped with artwork instead of advertisements. Stations & stops would be uniquely artistic and would be representative of the neighborhood they are in. Local schools would have contests to design a bus, train or station and winners would actually get their designs put into use.

    I think a rebranded, refocused regional system would do a lot to change the image/stigma of the current system and ridership would likely begin to increase relatively quickly. However a strong TOD approach would be needed to bring the system up to date and make us competitive with other major metros in the US in the long run.


    • UrbanCommuter permalink*
      June 4, 2011 3:02 pm

      I like the intent of your argument. Incorporating the arts is a great idea, but unfortunately it wouldn’t change much, and is difficult to accomplish. The most challenging aspect of this is that the current model does not allow for state funding. Without that changing, there is either a) no money to accomplish that no matter what the system is called and b) would be looked upon poorly by those who already deem the system as inefficient fiscally. In addition taking the advertising away becomes another source of revenue lost by the system and then begins to solely rely on fares which as we all know only covers close to 30% of the operating costs.
      Art has also already been applied within many of the stations. It is actually part of the MARTA design criteria that each new station needs to have a budget to incorporate a local artistic piece. The overall issue eventually boils down to funding, without proper funding there is no chance to even rebrand in the first place. It is not rebranding that MARTA needs to improve image, or service, or whatever it may be, but it needs appropriate funding. It is similar to the MTA in NYC in the 1970’s. The system was at a point of disrepair and overall unsafe (in both crime and operation) and easily considered one of the worst systems in the world. Its ridership numbers were at all time lows. Its problems were far greater than the issues MARTA faces today. The solution was appropriate funding. After the defeat of the Westway Highway project, people realized, as well as the government, the appropriate level of funding that transit needed, and not another road project. It was from this redirection of funds and overall support by its users and government on all levels that the MTA pulled itself from the brink and became what many people perceive as the greatest transit system in the country if not the world.
      As I stated before, even with a new name and artistic themes, the trains and buses will still service the same areas and the same people, and not that that needs to change anyways. As long as MARTA is disrespected by the state and other government agencies, then the people will have a tough time supporting it no matter what its called. If we can get leaders behind it, then people will also deem it worthy of more investment, more care, and more personal responsibility. And when that happens, (as well as expansion so that it can reach more people) maybe there would be money left over to enhance in the manner that you talk about. Finally, I agree TOD’s can change things immensely, Lindbergh Station and Decatur are a testament to that, but unfortunately that is not something that is possible right now. With the economic collapse and economic problems with this country, the odds of new development transforming an area are slim to none. Without housing, commercial, and office demand there is no need nor purpose to build such projects.
      I strongly encourage you to look at the fight over the Westway project and the resulting support the MTA was able to establish and how a little bit of money, and citizens directing their attention and efforts in the right manner can make a world of difference.

  2. 10B permalink
    June 5, 2011 1:16 am

    Remember the GRTA logo on the late C-Tran stop signs?
    If so, how about having GRTA as the umbrella transit agency and reinforce its present role?

    10B thinks that GRTA should play that role. As a matter of fact it already does: contracting with CCT, GCT, and CATS to start and run Xpress in Cobb, Gwinnett, and Cherookee; back in the old days, contracting with Clayton and … MARTA (!) to start, run (and terminate) C-Tran; doing mobility studies. We could stick a discrete GRTA logo on the existing fleet if it serves projects funded with TIA money. What do our transit nerds think of this option?

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