MARTA leans toward more frequent bus service on fewer routes

MARTA is considering providing more frequent service on fewer routes as it redesigns its bus network. (File photo by Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

MARTA is considering providing more frequent service on fewer routes as it redesigns its bus network. (File photo by Miguel Martinez /

MARTA will redesign its bus network with fewer routes but more frequent service under a plan a board committee approved Thursday.

The MARTA board’s planning committee approved the general concept for a redesigned bus network, and the full board is expected to follow suit in April. A proposed route map and schedule won’t be unveiled until this summer.

MARTA believes the new bus service will increase ridership by prioritizing more frequent service on busy routes. But the final plan will likely spark an outcry from MARTA customers who lose routes they currently rely on.

“I think everybody’s supportive in theory,” board member Jacob Tzegaegbe said at Thursday’s meeting. “But once we start putting lines on a piece of paper is when it will get the most difficult.”

The coronavirus pandemic took a dramatic toll on transit ridership in Atlanta and across the nation. MARTA bus ridership remains at just 60% of pre-pandemic levels.

But the service remains essential for many metro Atlanta residents, especially those without cars. Passengers took about 2.3 million trips on MARTA buses in December.

MARTA believes redesigning its bus network can make the system more efficient and useful for customers. But there are trade-offs as the agency decides how to deploy a limited number of buses and employees.

The agency operates 113 bus routes. It could offer more routes, but the buses would run less frequently on many routes (perhaps every 30 or 60 minutes). Or it could offer fewer routes but run buses more frequently (every 15 minutes).

MARTA surveyed its customers on which they would prefer, but they were somewhat divided. About 54% of survey respondents favored more frequent service on fewer routes, while 35% preferred less frequent service over a broader area. The rest supported something in between.

On Thursday, the board’s planning committee opted for fewer routes with more frequent service.

One indication of how the service will change: On a spectrum of service with fewer routes and more frequent service on one end and more routes and less frequent service on the other, MARTA’s existing service is skewed about 60% toward fewer routes/more frequent service.

The policy the committee adopted Thursday would set the balance at 75% to 80% toward the fewer routes/more frequent service end of the spectrum.

Bus routes in Clayton County — which are governed by separate agreements — would not be affected.

One thing that could soften the blow of reduced routes: MARTA is developing an on-demand transit system that could serve residents in neighborhoods that lost fixed-route bus service. The agency ran a pilot project for the on-demand service in a few neighborhoods last year.

MARTA will unveil a new bus network plan this summer. It will solicit public feedback before approving a final plan in the fall. The new service would launch next spring.