ATLANTA — Following the COVID-19 pandemic, use of Atlanta’s public transport system, MARTA, declined as much as 50%, though in some years it was even lower.
Data provided by the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority showed that compared to 2019, pre-pandemic, use of MARTA’s trains, buses, streetcars and disabled rider services was down almost 58%, depending on the year.
MARTA officials said that while the pandemic impacted ridership to all modes of transport and across the whole service area, weekday rail trips during peak travel hours were hit the hardest.
While ridership for everyday trips and travel declined, MARTA said it’s worth noting that rail ridership for large events has recovered well since the pandemic, “suggesting that despite the pandemic’s impact on commute trips,” people are still picking MARTA for gatherings and entertainment events in the metro area.
Ridership for Atlanta United games have been about 80% of the levels from 2018, while ridership for the Taylor Swift “Eras Tour” shows in April were among the highest travel totals for any event since the stadium’s opening, MARTA said.
Still, MARTA said that peak commuter totals were hit harder due to more Atlanta workers teleworking rather than commuting by car, bus or rail line.
“The data suggest that workers who have the option to telework are doing so. It’s also worth noting that we have not yet returned to the same level of service as prior to the pandemic, and that is responsible for at least part of the difference when comparing ridership now with pre-pandemic levels,” said a MARTA spokeswoman.
Transport to employment centers like Buckhead, midtown and downtown were hit worse, particularly during morning and evening hours on the red line, only reaching 26% of the average level from before the pandemic.
Discussing specifics of their findings, MARTA officials said rail ridership was hit, generally, harder than bus ridership across the metro.
MARTA provided yearly totals, showing year-by-year changes, including through September 2023. Using the data provided, we calculated the proportional change for each year compared to 2019′s pre-pandemic use.
|YEAR||Streetcar||Rail||Bus||Mobility||Total Riders||% Change from 2019|
|2023 (through September)||118,530||23,246,342||23,939,018||546,083||47,849,973||-58.3%|
Using February 2020 and February 2023 as dates for comparison, with the COVID pandemic officially declared in March, MARTA shared the following data points and analysis to show how usage has changed over the past few years.
Rail ridership has been impacted by the pandemic more than bus ridership:
- Total rail ridership in February 2023 (2,304,139) was 52% of rail ridership in February 2020 (4,401,906).
- Total bus ridership in February 2023 (2,525,917) was 68% of bus ridership in February 2020 (3,741,306).
Weekday rail ridership has been impacted more than weekend rail ridership:
- Average rail ridership per weekday in February 2023 (90,618) was 50% of the average rail ridership per weekday in February 2020 (180,035).
- Average rail ridership per weekend in February 2023 (107,760 for Saturday and Sunday combined) was 62% of average rail ridership per weekend in February 2020 (174,497).
Rail ridership during the weekday AM and PM peak commuting periods were impacted more than during the off-peak periods:
- Average rail ridership during the weekday peak commute periods (6AM-9AM and 3PM-7PM) in February 2023 (45,760) was 45% of the average rail ridership during the weekday peak commute periods in February 2020 (100,881).
- Average rail ridership during the weekday off-peak periods in February 2023 (44,858) was 57% of the average rail ridership during the weekday off-peak periods in February 2020 (79,155).
Weekday, peak period rail ridership from the northern part of the service area into employment centers (Buckhead, Midtown, downtown) was impacted more than in other parts of the MARTA service area:
- Average rail ridership during the weekday peak commute periods (6AM-9AM and 3PM-7PM) between stations on the red line north of Buckhead to and from stations in Buckhead, Midtown and downtown in February 2023 (2,875) was 26% of the average rail ridership during the weekday peak commute periods in February 2020 (10,957).
- By contrast, average rail ridership during the weekday peak commute periods (6AM-9AM and 3PM-7PM) between stations on the red line north of Buckhead to and from Airport station in February 2023 (667) was 55% of the average rail ridership during the weekday peak commute periods (6AM-9AM and 3PM-7PM) between stations on the red line north of Buckhead to and from Airport station in February 2020 (1,218).
For some additional context, it might be worth noting that rail ridership for large special events has recovered well, suggesting that despite the pandemic’s impact on commute trips, people are choosing to ride MARTA again for other purposes:
- Ridership for Atlanta United games in 2023 have been roughly 80% of totals at comparable games in 2018.
- Ridership for the 2022 SEC Football Championship Game were also roughly 80% of the totals for the 2018 and 2019 games.
- Ridership for the Taylor Swift Eras Tour shows at Mercedes-Benz Stadium the weekend of April 28 – April 30 ranked among the highest totals for any event at the stadium since it opened.
In the meantime, the Atlanta Regional Commission is working on a regional long-range transportation plan, in conjunction with both the Georgia Department of Transportation and MARTA, to expand transit options through 2050.
Projects in the works include a planned light rail service on the Atlanta BeltLine, a new MARTA Bus Rapid Transit service on Campbellton Road, the Clifton Corridor and to Southlake Mall in Clayton County, and a GDOT plan for Bus Rapid Transit service on major highways in Cobb and Gwinnett counties, according to ARC.
The commission said the long-range transportation plan was budgeted for almost $10 billion to fund the expansions that are underway or being explored by state and local leaders.
©2023 Cox Media Group
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