March 30th, 2018 was the first anniversary of the I-85 bridge burn and collapse here in Atlanta. We all remember where we were when we saw the black plumes belching over the late afternoon skyline. As I was taking a MARTA train from downtown Atlanta to my home Decatur, I gazed northward and I said to myself, "Must be a hell of a tire fire somewhere." Well, I was kind of correct.
This was supposed to be the opportunity for MARTA to "show its stuff" etc. Capture the hearts and minds of the Atlanta commuter, so to speak. At the end of the year I went to one of those transit conferences hoping to connect with liked-minded people, but really these breakfasts are just business leader schmooze sessions. This one was held at the W Hotel in Midtown and I was one of the few people who actually took mass transit to get there and you could hardly get into the place because the valets were overwhelmed trying to park cars. Nice cars. Expensive cars. No PT Cruisers.
No amount of bacon, runny scrambled eggs, and multiple PowerPoint presentations could redeem the experience, but I did learn one little fact about the bridge collapse and subsequent transit crisis -- MARTA ridership dipped in 2017! Yeah, thousands of drivers had to find new ways to get to work for a couple of months and at the end of the day MARTA could not keep that momentum. No one really addressed that interesting fact. Sometimes they say off-handedly that the low price of gasoline is the main factor, but I disagree. My explanation is twofold. You can ride MARTA a few times and think it's decent, but ride it consistently for a few weeks and you'll notice that the schedules are sporadic, and you will have the experience of standing on a platform for 20 to 30 minutes waiting on train during rush hour. At some point, you will be panhandled or preached to while on the train. And then once you are at your destination, you take your life into your hands trying not get run over as a pedestrian. You will consider yourself lucky if there is sidewalk or it's not closed by construction barricades.