2 DeKalb cities ask MARTA to reinstate bus service to needy communities

Nine months after bus service was suspended due to the pandemic, two DeKalb cities are calling on MARTA to reinstate bus routes that serve apartment complexes where many essential workers live.

MARTA suspended most of its 110 bus routes in April as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The remaining routes were beefed up to focus on providing transportation to hospitals, urgent care centers, grocery stores and industrial hubs, which MARTA calls its Essential Service Plan. While a dozen routes have returned, Doraville residents have limited options, and there are no active bus routes in Dunwoody.

“There is no bus service in Dunwoody, especially in our apartment communities,” Dunwoody Councilman Jim Riticher said during a Monday meeting. “That’s a real hardship.”

He said bus access to apartment complexes off Winters Chapel Road, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Shallowford Road is crucial to the families who live there. The city provided local nonprofits with federal coronavirus relief funds, which Riticher said partially went to those needy communities. But he said MARTA needs to make those areas a priority when reopening routes.

MARTA spokeswoman Stephany Fisher told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the transit agency is in communication with both cities’ mayors and recognizes, “There is a gap in bus service in north DeKalb County that needs to be addressed.”

Doraville Councilman Andy Yeoman said bus service has not returned to the most dense areas of his city, which are near Winters Chapel Road. Since that road runs into Dunwoody, he hopes MARTA can find a way to combine routes temporarily to provide quick bus access to those areas.

“We’re trying to lobby MARTA to either restore service in our city or to work on ways to consolidate some of the routes that haven’t been restored to make them more viable for MARTA,” he said during a Monday meeting.

MARTA’s website keep a list of suspended bus routes that are organized by priority. Fisher said four factors are considered: impact on vulnerable populations, essential destinations along the route, pre-pandemic ridership and customer comments.

The routes highlighted by city leaders are listed among MARTA’s lowest priority areas. Winters Chapel Road, with about 650 average weekly riders, was listed as MARTA’s 49th priority route to reopen. Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Shallowed Road are also in the 40s.

Yeoman argued that combining those routes should bump up their collective priority, making it more viable for MARTA to provide bus access to those areas. Doraville and Dunwoody coordinated to pass similar resolutions Monday requesting action from MARTA.

“I think this is the number one economic development issue in our city,” he said, adding that lack of public transport could dissuade people from living in Doraville.

In April, MARTA suspended 70 of its 110 bus routes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, they have slowly restored...

Posted by Andy Yeoman - Doraville City Council Member on Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Riticher added that the cities’ resolutions included flexible options for MARTA in hopes of speeding up the process.

“As they look at restoring some bus service, (I hope) that they not look into just restoring existing routes,” Riticher said. “It may make sense to combine some routes and get some coverage to these multi-family apartments that really need the bus coverage.”

MARTA’s slow return to normal bus activity landed it in court late last year. A DeKalb County resident filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court to try to force MARTA to reopen all routes, but a judge dismissed the claim.

Fisher cited the ongoing spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Georgia as justification for the slow return to normal bus service. She added that more than 90% of bus riders abide by MARTA’s mask-wearing requirement, and buses have installed air filters, plastic shields and mask dispensers.

“We understand the public is experiencing deep COVID fatigue and is eager for a return to normal,” she said. “But as the data shows, we are still in the midst of a deadly pandemic and social distancing and mask wearing remain critically important. Because capacity on current bus routes is still stretched, the Essential Service Plan is as necessary today as it was in the spring.”

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