Transit riders: Pawns in city’s popularity contest

By Benita Dodd

In November 2011, MARTA announced it was moving seven bus routes in downtown Atlanta to make way for the $72 million streetcar line that will run from Centennial Olympic Park to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic site.

The streetcar Web site noted that, “The changes will remain in effect until further notice.” But don’t wait for the “further notice” to be that the MARTA routes will be restored.

In fact, thanks to the street car construction, now there are changes in store for most Xpress bus riders as well, according to the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA).

GRTA’s board was asked today to approve the process to reroute the downtown Xpress buses off Peachtree Street. The changes to dropoff and pickup points in the area will affect two-thirds of the Xpress bus service, beginning in March, GRTA’s Operations and Finance Committee was told.

It’s not likely that the Xpress buses will return to Peachtree Street, either. There are compatibility challenges in running buses on a streetcar route. For example, the streetcar needs a 14-inch boarding platform. 

The city projects 2,600 weekday riders for the streetcar line, which will comprise four refurbished streetcars on a 12-station, 2.7 mile route (1.3 miles one way), running 15 minutes apart in the bona fide “Economically Distressed Area.” It’s being funded by $47 million in federal TIGER funds and $25 million from the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District.

In the application for the federal grant, the city predicted that “automobile trips will be diverted to the safer streetcar mode, which will thereby reduce accidents and increase pedestrian safety because more travelers will be using the streetcar instead of traveling by automobile.”

Don’t hold your breath. The streetcar project is forcing bus passengers on the popular GRTA Xpress and MARTA to change their routine – not the first time social engineers have forced passengers from one mode (usually buses) to another (usually rail) by reducing service frequency or cutting routes. Meanwhile, on those “diverted” automobile trips: The city’s application admits that more than 57 percent of the population within a quarter-mile of the streetcar route don’t have a vehicle.

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