MARTA cuts rail, bus service amid coronavirus outbreak

MARTA will reduce transit service beginning Monday as plummeting ridership and revenue take a toll on the agency.

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MARTA will reduce transit service beginning Monday as plummeting ridership and revenue take a toll on the agency.

MARTA will reduce transit service beginning Monday as plummeting ridership and revenue take a toll on the agency.

Rail service will operate on a modified weekend schedule. The agency will reduce bus service by about 30 percent.

The move comes as MARTA and other transit agencies nationwide have requested $25 billion in federal aid to maintain services as the coronavirus outbreak continues. The aid is included in a stimulus package that cleared the Senate Wednesday.

Beginning Monday, rail service will operate on a weekend schedule, though it will keep its regular 5 a.m. weekday start time. In addition, all red and gold line trains will go to the airport, while green line trains will turn back at King Memorial station.

MARTA will temporarily close the Mercedes-Benz/State Farm Arena/GWCC rail station because of “extremely low ridership,” the agency said. Trains will not stop at the station beginning Monday, though MARTA workers will perform “deep cleaning, repair work, painting and other small projects” at the station while it’s closed.

MARTA also will reduce bus service. All routes will continue to operate, but with fewer buses on each route. The exceptions are the busiest routes: 15, 39, 5, 121, 196, 73, 110, 78, 83 and 89. On those routes, MARTA will add buses to aid social distancing.

The agency said the new bus plan “closely mirrors MARTA’s inclement weather plan and prioritizes service along major arterial routes and to medical facilities.” It said the plan also allows for weekday-level bus service to essential businesses.

The downtown streetcar will operate on a Sunday schedule.

As the pandemic worsen, MARTA and other transit agencies have seen far fewer customers. On Monday, the number of trips on MARTA rail service was down 67 percent form a typical Monday in February. Bus trips were down 55 percent.

The state's Xpress bus service, Cobb County and Gwinnett County this week began reducing service on commuter bus lines that transport suburban residents into major job centers in metro Atlanta. On Wednesday those agencies said they did not plan additional cuts for now, though they continue to evaluate service.

MARTA has maintained service until now. But the agency said it's taking a financial hit as the number of passengers falls. It's one of dozens of agencies nationwide that have sought federal aid to maintain their operations.

On Thursday MARTA will suspend bus fares and require passengers to board at the rear of buses to separate passengers from drivers. The agency confirmed two employees have reported testing positive for the coronavirus, though one was later determined not to have it and was cleared to report to work.

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