I’ve been riding MARTA to and from work several times a week now since August. I think that’s enough to time to consider myself a seasoned rider. I ride the bus as well, which is about as scary a prospect as any of those softies in Cobb county can imagine. Given this and this article I read in today’s AJC, I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts on good ridership and keys to survival.
First off, the biggest reason I ride MARTA is the God-forsaken traffic it Atlanta. I work roughly a dozen miles from where I live and rarely can I drive home in less than an hour. It doesn’t take me much longer than that to run home from work (which I’ve done.) The stress of not sitting in stop-and-go traffic for an hour cannot be understated and neither can the savings from avoiding that wear and tear on your car. I also don’t drive the world’s most economical vehicle, so it costs me about half as much a day to ride MARTA as it does to drive.
Given this, here are some of my survival rules for navigating MARTA:
1. Know your route. Know the route name/number as well as the final destination. This is doubly important on the buses. If you screw up on the train, you can just hop off and catch one in a couple of minutes going in the opposite direction, but if you get on the wrong bus, you might be waiting 40 minutes for one to come along going the other way. Also, be careful that you don’t get Northbound and Southbound mixed up when boarding trains. It’s easy to get turned around when you transfer lines. Especially if you’re boarding from the middle platform.
PRO-TIP: Google Maps does a great job of planning your MARTA trip. Just input your Point A and Point B and click Transit Directions. You can input your departure time and it will do the rest. It’s usually easier than using the MARTA website itself.
2. Buy a Breezecard. Keep it in your wallet. You can load it online without ever having to use the machine at the station at Breezecard.com. You look like a tool paying for your bus ride in quarters, plus sometimes the fare machine on the bus will be down and you get to ride for free!
PRO-TIP: You don’t have touch the Breezecard itself to the sensor to open the fare gate. You can leave it in your wallet or ID badge carrier and just press that to the sensor. It’ll usually detect it. I’ve even had success leaving it in the case on my phone.
3. Get your self some headphones and listen to music or something while you ride. Folks are usually pretty quiet on the morning buses and trains, so a lot of times I’ll just chill and drink my coffee and kinda take it all in. That dynamic is completely flipped in the evening, however. That’s when you typically have to deal with the more unsavory elements of public transit; people that have no concept of how to talk quietly, people that smell bad, people on cellphones, Bums, etc. Just turn on your headphones, crank the Bob Seger and work on some Nightmoves.
4. Look like you you’ve been there before. This goes back to #1. If you know your route info and how the system works, you’re less likely to wind up in a situation you don’t want to be in. Don’t be freaked out by the bums or invalids or any of the other exciting new creatures you might encounter. Just treat it like you would a visit to Little Five Points; roll with it and head to the Vortex with all due haste.
5. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination, especially when utilizing the buses. The trains pretty much run on time, but the buses are subject to traffic just like you would be if you were driving. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to be at work at exactly 9:00. If the bus is a couple minutes late and I’m late to the station and have to wait for the next train, it’s no big deal.
Also, pay attention to what’s going on in the city on any given day. If school is out, the bus I ride in the morning will be right on time. If it’s in session, it’ll be 6 or 7 minutes later than the advertised time. You’ve gotta be attentive to that sort of thing or you’ll be late.
Some general common courtesy guidelines:
If you sit on an empty row, always sit on the inside seat by the window unless you’re really sure no one else needs to sit next to you. It’s a total dick move to just move your legs and make the other person climb over you to sit on the inside. If you’re one of those folks that’s uncomfortable having someone sit next to you, stand up. You can usually get a good leaning spot at the end of each car where the luggage and such is supposed to go.
Don’t take the seats for people with disabilities or old folks. If you do, you damn well better get up when someone gets on the bus or train that needs them. I’ve seen people get stared down for this. It’s pretty entertaining.
Always be polite to your bus driver. Say hello when you get on and thank them when you get off. They’re the folks that get you where you want to go and they’re the folks that will slow down and let you get on the bus when you’re 30 seconds late to the stop and they’re driving off.
When you’re at the train station and riding the escalators, move to the right if you’re just gonna stand still. Many folks are hurrying to catch a bus that’s about to leave the station and you’re just standing there blocking them. I’ve missed buses because some jackwad halfway up the escalator is blocking up the works.
Please, for the love of God, don’t ever get into political discussions with random bus riders. You inevitably end up yelling to someone on the other end of the bus and it’s just awkward. (One particularly strange guy on the 36 bus loves to do this. Unfortunately, someone always takes the bait)
That’s about all I’ve got for the time being. Really, the most important thing to remember is that MARTA is never going to give you the kind of freedom you have in your car, but in exchange for that you get less stress, save some money on gas, possibly the chance to get some exercise, and the ability to explore some new areas of your city.