The Metro Atlanta Regional Transportation Association (MARTA) is the supervising authority of the mass public rail system that serves Atlanta and its surrounding areas. (Orr, April 1, 2011) MARTA is also responsible for the majority of the bus routes that serve Atlanta's urban areas. The outlying counties' bus routes fall under the jurisdiction of each individual county that they run to, from, and through, such as Cobb County's Cobb Community Transit (CCT), which has a total of 131 local, express and paratransit buses. (Camp, December 12, 2010) Within this multitude of service areas is a bus or train that will run practically anywhere and everywhere a commuter wants to go.
For the places that are currently unreachable by the mass transportation systems in existence are plans to bolster these systems with additional service routes and times. In the past, Atlanta has been a city that favors individual automobiles. But this attitude is shifting as newer residents to Georgia who are formerly from cities with extended railway service make an impact for future trends in transportation. "In fact, Atlanta is on the leading edge of a national trend: Since 2000, neighborhoods within three miles of downtown Atlanta have seen a 61% surge in residents aged 25 to 34" (Schneider, March 7, 2011) who are demanding access to affordable, efficient, and progressive mass transportation. These new young citizens are educated professionals who are market-trendy, street-savvy, and culturally sophisticated, and they do not want to waste their time sitting in an overpriced SUV in congested traffic. (Schneider, March 7, 2011) Using the highway is not a viable option for these commuters. Brant Sanderlin (February 23, 2011) tells readers that "a recent study by Forbes magazine named Atlanta as the number-one worst city for commuters" and public transportation is the obvious solution for Atlanta's diverse new population. In response to the needs of this new Georgia, Metro Atlanta government are asking for an unprecedented amount of mass transit expansion.
Brand Sanderlin (February 23, 2011) describes the various expansion proposals. One of the more controversial but overall most exciting project is the Atlanta Belt Line Streetcar Circulator, a streetcar transit system that will be a complement to MARTA by traveling where trains and buses are not accessible or convenient. The first planned route will start at the Martin Luther King Historic Site on Jackson Street and end at Centennial Park, and a second will start at Arts Center, traveling along Peachtree Street and ending at Five Points. "Streetcars are more ideal than buses because they are quieter, give off fewer emissions and are not affected by traffic" (Sanderlin, February 23, 2011) and the Streetcar Circulator will help to create an estimated 1,399 jobs. In The Transit Metropolis: A Global Inquiry, Robert Cervero (1998, pp. 207-211) describes how streetcars have helped with economic revitalization in other states, including Washington, Massachusetts, and California, most famously in San Francisco. Streetcars are also good for the environment; Cervero tells us that "the prolific use of streetcars has the ability to reduce average annual fuel emissions by one sixth and to cut the amount of fuel consumption used by public transportation by almost one third." (Cervero, 1998, p. 197) Another proposal that Sanderlin (February 23, 2011) discusses is MARTA State of Good Repair, which will provide a major overhaul to the system, with massive repairs and revitalization to its trains, buses, and transit facilities, as well as purchasing new equipment and vehicles. Howard Stacy (April 12, 2011) debates the benefits of high speed railway systems, which he outlines as being "good for [Atlanta] because it reduces congestion on the highways. Second, high-speed rail reduces the amount of gasoline we burn, reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Third, high-speed rail reduces air pollution and helps with climate change. High-speed rail is a smart, safe alternative to bumper-to-bumper traffic." High speed rail is not a major part of Georgia's future at this time, but there are plans to implement this service in several parts of the state, including the northeast, such as the route from New Orleans to Atlanta to Washington. (Stacy, April 12, 2011) It is most likely that this type of mass transportation will become increasingly relevant to Atlanta in the near future.
Along with being convenient, mass transit in Atlanta is affordable. Howard Stacy (April 12, 2011) tells his readers that "recently, the price of gasoline has jumped to an average of $3.73 a gallon and is expected to go higher." Currently the price of express routes and paratransit services are $4 per ride, and one-way fares on local routes are $2. There are people who argue that these costs are unreasonable and unaffordable, especially for the population who lives on or under the poverty level. But compared to a tank of gas, which can run anywhere from $35 to $50 or more, and the cost of commuting in a personal vehicle which includes not only gasoline but insurance payments, vehicle loans, and maintenance, mass transit fares are comparatively cheap. The needs of the lower income population are a consideration, and it is possible to purchase reduced-fare passes if one meets the low-income requirements of MARTA and other county transportation systems.
The cost to taxpayers is also an issue for some opponents of mass transit. A whopping $13.5 billion dollars is needed if the entirety of the Atlanta Regional Commission's wish list for mass transit projects is to be approved. (Associated Press, April 17, 2011) Currently taxpayers fund approximately 1/3 of all mass transit in the state of Georgia. (Camp, December 12, 2010) But the cost to the taxpayers is compensated for by its provision of employment and means to find and keep employment, allowing citizens of lesser means to support themselves instead of relying on public subsidies such as welfare programs. "This whole system is very necessary for people, because everyone can't afford a car or to drive. A lot of kids use the buses to get to the rec center, so it keeps them out of trouble, and it gets them to school, too," says a mass transit rider in Kathy Ruth Camp's (December 12, 2010) article. "Without this bus or this system, a lot of people would lose their jobs because they have no way to get there," another rider tells Camp (December 12, 2010). Jarir S. Dajani (November 1997) tells readers that when the Atlanta Mass Transit System was redistributed back in the late '80's and early '90's, the city saw a major overhaul in its unemployment, economic, and welfare statistics. In Urban Transportation Systems, Sigurd Grava (2002, p. 57) tells us that "public transportation is a vital component of any urban city, and in fact a city cannot be considered livable without a safe, reliable, affordable means of mass transit."
The many forms of transportation in Atlanta make its public transit systems diverse and advanced. This city of the old south can boast of a mass transit system with bus and train routes that are beginning to compare to those of New York city, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Its projected use of streetcars is a progressive answer to the problems of inaccessible and inconvenient areas. While Georgia does not currently have a large high speed rail system, it does make effective use of this mode of travel, and it is likely that this will increase in the near future. Bullard et. al. inform us in Sprawl City: Race, Politics, and Planning in Atlanta that "gentrification has affected Atlanta in negative ways, such as lack of affordable housing, an inconsistent and unbalanced job market, the prevalence of overpriced specialty stores and chain stores that are replacing locally owned stores, and less emphasis on social service funding and projects. However, one of the benefits of gentrification is the city's mass transit systems, which have been vastly improved over the past several years, and now afford an increase in jobs in the service sector (customer service staff), transportation sector (bus drivers & train operators), and mechanical sector (equipment maintenance and repair). [Overall], the city's mass transit systems are a positive effect of the overall negativity felt in the gentrification process." (Bullard et. al., 2001, pp. 236-237)
Atlanta's population is immensely proud of its history, including the part that it took in the fight to end racial segregation. Forty college students are using MARTA to reenact the activities of the Freedom Riders, who used public transportation as a means of challenging segregation in the South. (Keating, 2001)
The fact that mass transportation systems in Atlanta are convenient, affordable, and progressive makes them ultimately extremely valuable to Georgia's population. This is seen in the sheer mass of numbers that ride Atlanta's public transportation. For example, CCT local route 10 from Marietta Transfer Center to MARTA's Arts Center Station, alone sees 4,000 rides daily, and local route 30, which runs between the Marietta Transfer Center on South Marietta Parkway and the MARTA Holmes…