Opinion: Metro Atlantans offer their views on public transit

Some of MARTA train and bus services are canceled and delayed with staffing problems causing interruptions on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2022.  Covid illness, restrictions and unfilled job positions have created the staffing shortage. Photos taken at Five Points Station.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Combined ShapeCaption
Some of MARTA train and bus services are canceled and delayed with staffing problems causing interruptions on Tuesday, Jan 17, 2022. Covid illness, restrictions and unfilled job positions have created the staffing shortage. Photos taken at Five Points Station. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently asked readers to offer their views in general on the role of public transit in this region. The following readers shared their thoughts with us on this topic. The subject is timely now, given MARTA’s expected vote this week on building a bus rapid transit line in southwest Atlanta. A community activist and frequent transit reader offers her view on that project here. As always, we want to hear your respectful comments on this topic. Share them on the AJC Opinions Facebook page or by a letter to the editor at: letters@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Bethany Keyes

Credit: contributed

Bethany Keyes

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
Bethany Keyes

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

By Bethany Keyes:

I moved to Atlanta in 2018. I drove my vehicle from point A to point B until the start of the spring 2022 semester. My school moved to downtown Atlanta. The unpredictable traffic accompanied with the parking expenses prompted me to explore other commuting options.

I use MARTA to commute to and from school. It’s much easier and affordable. Also, you can typically find entertainment. I intend to use MARTA for the remainder of my school career.

Aside from commuting via MARTA, I prefer to use my vehicle to travel from point A to B as MARTA is convenient for commuting to school or work, but I wouldn’t use it to go run errands or go to the grocery store.

Combined ShapeCaption
Sarah Babcock

Credit: contributed

Sarah Babcock

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
Sarah Babcock

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

By Sarah Babcock

I have been taking public transportation regularly for more than 20 years. After graduating from college in 2000, I took a fellowship in Russia and spent four years in Ekaterinburg and Moscow, where public transportation is robust and widely used. My Russian friends and I got everywhere we needed to go using a combination of the metro, buses, trams and commuter trains. Once I learned the key rules of Russian public transportation etiquette/survival – always give up your seat for elderly women, take off your backpack to make room for others to stand, carry a book for entertainment on the long metro rides – public transit became part of my regular rhythm and I rarely, if ever, wished for a car.

Upon returning to the U.S. to start law school at Emory, I therefore was quite shocked by Atlanta’s car-centric culture. I tried to continue my ingrained reliance on public transit by using the Emory shuttles to get to my classes and the grocery store, but eventually succumbed and bought a car. My commutes from Midtown to Emory were the last regular car commute I have had, however. After graduation, I used MARTA or walked to my federal clerkships, associate position at a big law firm and jobs at two different nonprofits. My husband and I chose to stay in Midtown in part because of the MARTA accessibility, which has allowed us to be a one-car family.

I love riding MARTA every day. I love the microcosm of Atlanta that is on the train during the morning rush hour – sleepy Georgia State students, federal employees, construction workers with their lunch coolers, middle and high school students on their way to school, parents commuting to day care and then work with kids in strollers, businesspeople in serious suits with large coffees. I love the camaraderie of a commuter holding the door for a passenger racing to make the train, the young student offering a seat to the cleaning woman getting off her shift, the businessman in a dark suit picking up a fallen toy for a child. I love the eye rolls and laughs at the overly chirpy train driver and the knowing smiles exchanged between moms witnessing a child’s antics.

Yes, there is panhandling, and loud music, and rowdy teenagers to be sure. But for as many times as I have witnessed those things, I have seen dozens more transcendent, communal moments – beautiful music played on the free piano at Five Points Station while waiting for a train on a rainy evening, early morning commuters helping a parent get a stroller up the stairs when the elevator is broken, senior citizens explaining to tourists how to transfer at Five Points.

With all of the division in our society currently, everyone getting their news from different sources and disagreeing strenuously, even violently, over politics, public transportation feels like a last bastion of community, the one place where we are all together, traveling in the same direction.