Great piece. I was pleasantly surprised when I moved to Atlanta last year, and discovered that I didn't need a car. So I haven't purchased one, which has been fabulous, as I hate having that ball and chain around my bank account. Of course, shortly after I arrived - and days after the AJC announced that Atlanta (1) had the longest commute in the country and (2) the highest gas prices in the state - they cut back MARTA service, so one of the bus lines I used regularly began running every 45min, instead of every 20-30min. Prices rose, too. Oh well.
What amazed me more than city government deliberately undermining its own transport system was the reluctance of intown residents to use MARTA. People who are in debt, who live and work close to the train lines, who have no problem using mass transit in San Francisco or New York, have an almost visceral aversion to a service they may have never tried. Many seem to be under the impression that MARTA dangerous and dirty, when it's actually quite clean and safe. And I've heard that tedious little joke about "Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta" about a thousand times, which is frustrating. You're going to let racism, of all things, get in the way of enjoying a more prosperous and healthy life? How bizarre.
My husband, who recently hails from Cobb County, keeps trying to explain that commuters aren't necessarily ridiculous or racist, but simply tie their self-worth to status, status that can be most effectively displayed through an expensive, late-model car. The best way to exhibit their high status is by driving the car to work, perhaps three hours roundtrip. If they used MARTA, this status would be a mystery to the people around them, who could then judge them only on their clothing and electronic gadgets.
I don't even know where to begin.
But these illogical beliefs, superstitions really, along with the failure of TSPLOST, lead me to believe that what MARTA needs more than a rail expansion is an advertising campaign. Something more sophisticated and geared to the Atlanta market than the inexplicable Boston accent of "Take MARTA, It's Smarta." No. More like, "Take MARTA Y'all, It's Hot!" (OK, that's terrible, but you get the idea.) And why aren't there free days, when people are invited to at least *try* commuting to work or play? It's not always the money, it's the whole process of buying the card; if doors were open one day, people might jump on board. Sometime in the spring, when it's lovely walking weather, would be great. Or PSAs where people talk about the books they've read, weight they've lost, time they've gained, money they've saved, and so forth, thanks to commuting on MARTA?
The failure of MARTA and Atlanta public transport is partly a failure of government, to be sure. But the city has actually provided in-towners with a relatively high-quality, useful mass transit system. Perhaps the key to expanding it isn't convincing voters to pay higher taxes for a service they're afraid to use. It may be making them want to use it. First, however, they have to try it. An advertising campaign seems like a great first step.
Creative Loafing Atlanta
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