During the first month of my freshman year at Emory, my phone broke. No one was free to drive me, I couldn’t use the Uber app and I didn’t have a car. I was helpless.
So I took the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), Atlanta’s primary system of public transit, to LifeLine Repairs on Briarcliff Road. Since then, my phone has remained mostly intact, and I continue to use MARTA to travel around the city.
My confidence in public transportation may seem strange to some, as MARTA’s buses and trains have an infamous reputation for being slow, unreliable and unsafe. Yet for all the complaints about its limited routes and underfunding, MARTA’s affordability and the availability of bus routes around campus make it a convenient form of transportation that more Emory students should use.
Consider another example: It is winter break, and you are trying to get to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport to fly home. You live in Longstreet-Means Hall and take an Uber. According to the Uber fare estimator, that ride from 646 Means Drive to the airport will cost about $19 to $25. The price may seem inconsequential, especially if the fare is split among friends, but the same trip taken on MARTA would have only cost $2.50 after taking Route 6 and using a free transfer to board a train on the Red or Gold line.
That is a considerable chunk of change to save. Atlanta is known for being a mess of traffic, and while MARTA has a set price for both its buses and train and a guarantee of two free transfers to other lines, Uber is subject to surge pricing when there is a high demand for rides. Uber’s website lists surge prices as 1.8 to 2.8 times the regular fare.
Students without cars are not the only ones who can benefit from MARTA, as Emory parking permits aren’t cheap. A student pass costs $672 per year, with some of its value lost for students who don’t stay at Emory over the summer. Parking around the city attaches an additional fee, and introduces the horrors of parallel parking. Taking MARTA instead of a personal vehicle may have a time trade-off, but that’s not always the case, as speed is strongly dependent on traffic in Atlanta. Depending on where you’re going, MARTA can be just as fast as a car — if not faster — during rush hour congestion.
With multiple MARTA bus stops around campus and up the Clifton Corridor, it is a shame to ignore such a resource. Route 6, also known as the Emory line, passes through Little Five Points on its way south and ends in Inman Park, which is within walking distance of Edgewood, Krog Street Market and the Beltline, all popular spots for Emory students. Riding north takes you to Lindbergh Center, which has a MARTA train station that connects the Emory line to the rest of the city’s MARTA stops through the Red and Gold rail lines.
Students who fear that MARTA is unsafe or unpleasant should put those thoughts aside. MARTA’s overall crime rate in 2016 was down 13 percent from the previous year, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). When the AJC compared MARTA’s crime rate to the crime rate of public transportation systems in Boston, San Francisco and Washington D.C., it found that MARTA had one of the lowest crime rates, second only to Boston. As for the experience, it is true there are a few strange characters on every couple of trips; however, that is characteristic of public transportation in any major city.
MARTA has its fair share of problems, but they are symptomatic of Atlanta’s sprawling city structure. Winding roads, the absence of a grid system and the Atlanta’s reliance on one-way streets and parallel roads make the city hard to navigate. However, while the system is not perfect by any means, MARTA is actively working to expand its routes to better serve its customers. So set aside your preconceived notions and qualms about its reputation, and give MARTA a chance.
Kellen McCarthy is a College junior from Tallahasse, Fla.