Atlanta’s MARTA Ridership Boost From Closed Freeway Doesn’t Stick

Transit advocates had hoped for a silver lining to bridge collapse.

(Photo by dbking)

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After an overpass collapse shut down one of Atlanta’s busiest freeways in late March, ridership on the city’s MARTA train jumped 11 percent — causing some transit advocates to hope for a permanent surge. As Next City reported at the time, ridership on some days rose as much as 25 percent.

But it was not to be. Since I-85 reopened, the train has “returned to pre-collapse ridership,” a MARTA spokesman told 11Alive.

The news station points out that MARTA is “the only [transit system] of its size in the country that gets no state funding,” a set-up that can be traced, in part, to the suburbs’ legacy of structural racism. That funding gap has meant service gaps in the past, and the period of I-85’s closure was no different. On July 4, a faulty rail switch caused delays that slowed some passengers hoping to participate in a high-profile 10K race — much to the would-be runners’ dismay.

“MARTA made us late,” one unidentified participant told 11Alive at the starting line. “Over 30 minutes waiting.”

Such complaints probably make the truly transit-dependent roll their eyes, but as Curbed points out, “breakdowns in service on high-demand days” tend to destroy occasional users’ confidence in the system as a whole. Other likely factors for the return to pre-closure levels include “the short duration of the closure, and the fact that MARTA simply doesn’t serve many areas beyond the urban core,” according to Curbed.

“I think that this bridge collapse is an opportunity to see that relying solely on road infrastructure is not resilient,” the leader of a local transit advocacy group said during the early days of the ridership surge. But apparently, underfunded transit isn’t resilient either.

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Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian

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Tags: subwaysatlanta

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