Out and About in Atlanta: MARTA for Me
MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, serves as a model of public transportation and has helped the city to lure important companies and events (like the Olympics!) since opening to the public in 1979, but is MARTA "smarta" for you?
It's not just for commuters!
While we all know it's great for daily commuters and out of town travelers, most of Atlanta's suburban residents seldom use MARTA's energy-efficient transportation system. With 38 rail stations and more than 180 bus routes, new "Breeze" smart cards, half-fare rides for seniors, and complete wheelchair (and stroller) accessibility throughout the system, MARTA is equipped to carry children, seniors, and families as well as daily passengers. My kids like riding MARTA and consider it part of the adventure of going to the Georgia Aquarium and the Imagine It! children's museum across the street. Other popular destinations include the major malls, the Arts Center, the Fox Theater, Olympic Park, the Georgia Dome, Phillips Arena, Turner Field, and the airport.
As of July 2007, Breeze smart cards have replaced MARTA's former tokens and transfers. Using microchip technology, each card can carry a single rider's pass as well as a cash value. You can pick up a Breeze card at a vending machine at any MARTA station. If you only ride occasionally, you'll want to add cash value or a number of trips to your card rather than a weekly or monthly pass.
Once you have one of these rechargeable cards, you tap the circular Breeze card target to pay at the gate in the train station or the fare reader on the bus. You won't have to count change or keep up with tokens, and the system automatically knows when to credit a transfer. If you are worried about losing your card, you can sign up for a balance protection program. Breeze cards may soon be accepted on each of Atlanta's four suburban transit providers, including GRTA (Georgia Regional), CCT (Cobb), GCT (Gwinnett), and C-Tran (Clayton).
MARTA can be "smarta" for traveling with kids or seniors. Kids 5 and under ride free, but those 6 and older need their own Breeze cards. Don't worry... tapping the card on the target is easy enough that a 6-year-old can do it! Seniors age 65 and older and those on Medicare can get Half-Fare Breeze cards by calling HIDDEN. All buses, trains, and stations within the MARTA system are fully accessible for wheelchairs. If you're traveling with a stroller, you'll want to bring one that collapses easily and compactly. (You can even bring your bike on MARTA!)
For seniors and disabled individuals, MARTA also offers an advance registration transportation service, now called MARTA Mobility, which provides curb-to-curb or feeder system shared ride service for those who can't use regular bus or rail services, including those who may be unable to drive themselves to a bus or train station. After completing the application process and receiving an ADA Paratransit Photo Identification Card, riders can make a reservation up to seven days in advance and specify either a pickup time or an arrival time for their trip. Fares are higher ($3.50 one way) and are not discounted; however, eligible riders can obtain a MARTA Mobility Fixed-Route Pass, which allows free rides on all fixed-route transportation. A medically required caregiver is allowed to travel on MARTA Mobility transportation free of charge with an eligible rider. For handicap access information, go to accessible.
Depending on where you live and where you want to go, there are times when MARTA can be the best way to get to your destination. When you want to take grandma to the mall (but her wheelchair won't fit in your car!), carry your kids to the Braves Game (take the train to Five Points and catch the Braves Shuttle), or get a sitter for a night at the Fox Theater, don't discount MARTA as a means of travel, even if you live in Atlanta's suburbs.
Janet Lewis is a professional editor, freelance writer and web designer. She lives in Birmingham with her husband and two adorable sons.
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