MARTA is raising its fare on October 1. It's the second piece of fallout from the legislature's decision not to act on MARTA's budget shortfall during its last session. Even though the Atlanta Regional Commission ponied up some stimulus money, it still wasn't enough. So MARTA is raising its fares. The truth is I am not really upset about this. MARTA's monthly passes, which is what I primarily purchase, have been a steal at under $2.00 per day for unlimited bus and train for some time. I don't know anywhere else in the country where I can ride for that cheap, unlimited. So my pass will go from $52.50 for 30 days of unlimited rides to $60.00, or exactly $2.00 a day.
It's pretty easy to see why there is no way this $7.50 fare raise is going to affect me. It amounts to less than $1 per day, or to be charitable, less than $2 per work day. So in the end we are talking about the price of essentially one gallon of gas. And for anyone who has ever driven up and down the connector and Ga. 400 every day knows, you will burn a heck of a lot more than one gallon of gas in a daily round trip from North Ormewood, where I live, to Alpharetta, where I work.
Apart from it making economic sense for me to continue what I am doing, how could I ever put an eight dollar price tag on the sanity and found time that making this commute on MARTA gives me? I am actually writing this post right now from the #140 bus along North Point Parkway as I begin my journey home. Try doing that in a car. When I get to the train, I will stow the laptop and pull out this odd little thing called a book, which I will read right there on the train. In the almost two years I have been on MARTA now, I have never yelled at another patron (a frequent occurrence with other drivers whilst in my car) or made an obscene gesture. Try putting a price tag on that.
And of course I can afford it. I feel though for those who cannot.
The real tragedy here though, is the first part of the measure MARTA had to take. That went into effect over the summer with a lot less fanfare than the fare hikes are going to get and with consequences that are much more severe. I am talking about a whole host of service cuts to bus routes and trains, especially off-peak. I'd actually love to get rid of my car completely. And I would if MARTA was more frequent, but unfortunately it's not. Going anywhere off-peak on MARTA can usually take more than an hour and often two. It's unfortunate, but while bus coverage of the city is extensive, it isn't frequent.
What's funny is I am moderately libertarian. I often think the government should get out of the way and let markets vote on what people want. Transportation however is one of those areas where governments do have a roll. We all need it. All our lives are infinitely better, materially and existentially, with access to transportation. Building and maintaining roads has been a state function for a very long time. It's just too costly to run a comprehensive system of transportation. Public transportation is no different. Our city deserves to have good, reliable transportation. The service cuts fundamentally undercut that. If people can't get where they want, they won't ride. The less they ride, the more the system suffers. It suffers from a lack of support, a lack of money, a lack of interest.
It didn't have to be that way. The service cuts didn't have to happen. But politics got involved (of course it did, MARTA funding is a political decision), and unfortunately, those of us that ride and support this system are the ones that paid; in longer wait times, in less frequent service, and yes, in higher fares. But you paid too. Some people will give up. They will decide the longer wait isn't worth it anymore and get back in their car. They will be in their car and be in front of you on I-85.
So yes, I am still going to be riding. I love my MARTA, and it will take a lot to get me off of it.
But how many others hit their breaking strain?
James Hervey is the author of a blog on his MARTA ridership experiences and a regular contributor to http://atlanta.metblogs.com/. Each year, his sustained efforts at clean commuting have helped keep nearly four tons of pollution out of the air we breathe.
Keeping cars off the roads and pollution out of the air is a big job! It truly takes the entire community working together to create change. The Clean Air Campaign is fortunate to have friends across the region that, with creative flair, rally the community behind shared goals to help make our region a better place to live.
Our friends’ efforts go a long way in getting commuters on board with programs that promote less traffic and cleaner air.
- Groups such as the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition team up with our organization to help put the fun into clean commuting by orchestrating creative events like Bike to Work Week.
- Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta promotes the importance of air quality in cooperation with The Clean Air Campaign by educating families about the negative effects air pollution has on children.
- Even local radio stations have jumped on the bandwagon by engineering promotions with The Clean Air Campaign that entertain, inform and engage community members, placing clean commuting in the limelight. Activities like the "Green Machine" hybrid giveaway catch people’s attention and get them thinking about how they can make better air choices.
Now, the eco-friendly, Atlanta-based restaurant chain, Ted’s Montana Grill, is sponsoring the 2nd annual Bison Stampede 5k on October 3 that will benefit four environmental organizations, including The Clean Air Campaign. It's fun to work with a Georgia-based business that bases so much of its success on sustainable practices and community goodwill. Join the herd by registering for the race here. I know you don’t want to miss this opportunity to run around downtown in a bison head hat, eat free bison sliders, rock out to Ben Deignan and at the same time help the environment! I thought so…see you October 3.