by Thomas Donoghue
There are few things Atlantans love to gripe about more than MARTA. But guess what? MARTA is getting better. It is. And anyone who says otherwise is out of their minds and yearns for the past years of suburban sequestration that have simply gone away along with their property values. State Republican lion, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle has even said himself that it is time that Georgia reinvest in transportation and transit. A republican-led commission recently released a report to the state congress that taxes may need raising to support transportation. So… let me ask you a question: What the hell is going on?
Keith Parker, the savior CEO of MARTA who has worked tirelessly to make the authority into a transit powerhouse for the region has been, I believe, the sole reason for all the success. He has hired the right leaders, such as transit-oriented development (TOD) guru Amanda Rhein, and found new and inventive methods of economic development for our transit. Not to mention, he has fired the people who needed to be fired as well.
People have complained about MARTA tirelessly in the past. They have complained about the poor and the homeless that utilize the system. Those people are out of their minds. Are you serious about your bitching about the guy asking for change? You live in a city. Pure and simple, you suburban drones. What don’t you get?
Try going to work packed like a sardine with a guy rapping in your ear, all the while grasping for a pole because the conductor just called everyone on the train a bunch of assholes for holding the doors open and now he has decided to go mach 3 to the next stop, then slams on the brakes while complaining over the loudspeaker that his girlfriend didn’t give him any booty this morning and that’s the reason we’ve pissed him off. That’s a true story.
MARTA is clean, the attendant at my station says “Hi” to me every morning because he remembers me. There are actually almost no homeless people comparatively. This is a system that can carry an eight-carriage train at each station every 90 seconds. The New York Subway couldn’t achieve such a feat and I’ll be damned if the Boston “T” could ever dream of such capacity.
People complain that it doesn’t go anywhere. That’s the biggest load of shit I’ve heard since I moved here in 2008 when people said “Grant Park is sketchy and dangerous.” MARTA is the only system in the world that is not state-subsidized. In. The. World. Look it up and you’ll see. I dare you to find me another transit system where the government doesn’t kick in for the shortfall in the budget. Estonia recently started “free service for all” in their capital city. I know what you’re thinking: Estonia? We are ‘Murica! Yeah… we have a world-class system, but we have state funding that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of.
The State of Georgia further hinders MARTA with a 50/50 split per the outdated and archaic MARTA Act of 1965. In other words: although MARTA is essentially its own government, they cannot spend the revenue how they see fit. Fifty percent of the revenue produced must go toward capital improvements, and the other 50 percent is to go toward operations. This is why MARTA has such long headways, but wonderful infrastructure. If Keith Parker were to want this changed, he’d have to appeal to the State Legislature for a limited time amendment, which is what we have now. MARTA train service has improved and headways are shorter, but only because Keith Parker requested, and received a limited time revision to the 50/50 revenue split. And let me tell ya—those trains ain’t cheap.
My Darling Atlanta learned a little tidbit. Each carriage in a train, that’s just one car, costs roughly $3 million dollars. So when you pass by a station, or live at a loft over looking a station and bear witness every five to twenty minutes, depending on rush hour, you better think to yourself: “there goes $24 million dollars every couple of minutes.” That’s some chetto (Polish slang for “money”) right there.
The Future: I believe that Atlanta will become, by necessity, a transit city in a matter of 10 to 20 years. MARTA already has several expansion plans in the works, but the key to the puzzle for Atlanta is TOD. With the 2015 construction of King Memorial Station mid-rise apartment units, and plans for several more, the cool kids of the city will now have places where MARTA takes them.
The streetcar has its place too. Doubters speak of a choo-choo that only takes tourists in a circle around the downtown core, and that’s very important, but once expansion begins east to the BeltLine they all can forgo doubt. They’ll be seated atop their bar stool perches at Chili’s for a contrived happy hour after their bullshit factory white-collar jobs talking about how terrible it is in the city. How they don’t understand the people down there that can live with all that crime and traffic. Meanwhile, come Saturday morning, they’ll pack their kids up in the SUV, putter away from their McMansion ‘Murican dream, spend an hour and a half in Saturday morning gridlock traffic on The Connector just to park on our local streets in neighborhoods like Inman Park and Cabbagetown, shuffle their kids out of their SUV, for the sole purpose of going for a walk on the BeltLine. Maybe they’ll grab a bite to eat at a great restaurant off to the side and people watch.
Then, they’ll go home and complain again.