Website will make MARTA easier, sort of 

When it comes to riding public transit in Atlanta, it's always best to find some good news to accompany the bad. For example, it could take 40 minutes to make a four-mile trip by bus. (That's the good news!) The bad news is, you first have to spend the better part of an afternoon figuring out the serpentine tangle of bus routes.

So here's more good news. MARTA recently launched on its website, www.itsmarta.com, a service called TripPlanner. TripPlanner is meant to work like www.mapquest.com. You type in your starting and ending destinations, as well as the time you wish to leave or arrive, and TripPlanner will configure several different itineraries by which you can get there on buses, trains or both.

The bad news is, TripPlanner's suggestions are often as efficient as driving the entire circumference of I-285 to get to your neighbor's house.

I tried using TripPlanner to see what instructions it gave me for getting from my house in Ormewood Park to the airport. I'd always thought it best to take the No. 32 bus, which passes my driveway and stops 15 minutes later at the King Memorial rail station. Then I'd take the three-minute train ride west to the Five Points station, switch to the southbound train and hop off 16 minutes later at Hartsfield-Jackson International. That 13-mile trek, including waits, averages 40 minutes.

TripPlanner, however, suggested I try a different bus, the No. 48, which passes two blocks east of my house. TripPlanner says I'm to take that bus north to the Lenox rail station -- a 52-minute ride -- then catch the southbound train to the airport. Total travel time for TripPlanner's 32-mile itinerary: 90 minutes.

In all fairness, TripPlanner did give me decent instructions for riding MARTA to work. (Just don't get frustrated if it has trouble figuring out addresses with street numbers. It does much better with intersections, so long as they're typed like this: "Main Street/Oak Street.") And you can't say you weren't warned, as TripPlanner smartly discloses, "Please note, this new service is still a work in progress. We are constantly reviewing and evaluating this system for enhancements."

Frustrated TripPlanner users are even "encouraged and welcomed" to pose questions to tripplan@itsmarta.com.

To read more about misadventures on MARTA, visit http://atlanta.creativeloafing.com/2003-06-19/cover.html

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