MARTA will keep the $1 fare to ride the Atlanta Streetcar when it takes over the troubled downtown transit line July 1.
MARTA Police Chief Wanda Dunham told the agency’s Board of Director’s Friday the fare is needed to allow officers to enforce a “no loitering” rule and to ensure patrons feel safe aboard the streetcar. Some customers have complained they feel unsafe because of homeless people often ride the transit line.
MARTA had considered making the fare free to boost ridership when it takes over streetcar operations from the City of Atlanta. But Dunham said MARTA police could not enforce the “no loitering” rule if a streetcar ride were free.
The chief also said MARTA plans to station a police officer aboard every streetcar to make customers feel safe.
“We want to introduce security,” Dunham told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We want people to come back and ride the streetcar.”
The board approved the $1 fare at a meeting Friday. Other key decisions - including the frequency of streetcar service and possible expansion routes - will wait until after MARTA takes over the transit line.
In a statement to the AJC, a City of Atlanta spokeswoman said the city supports “MARTA and any decisions they make regarding the overall success of the Atlanta Streetcar and its contribution to the future of public transportation in the city.”
Operated by the city, the streetcar has failed to live up to its promise since it debuted in December 2014. Ridership failed to meet initial projections and fell significantly when Atlanta began charging $1 to ride in 2016.
Two years ago, the Georgia Department of Transportation threatened to shut down the streetcar over safety and other concerns the city had not addressed.
Atlanta later addressed the state’s concerns. And ridership rose 16 percent to 429,963 passenger trips last year, according to an AJC analysis of federal transit statistics.
But ridership fell nearly a third in the first three months of 2018 compared to the same period last year.
In its statement, the city said the bulk of last year’s increase streetcar use was due to “increased marketing efforts and operational improvements during spring and summer months when there are more events happening along the (streetcar) alignment.”
“As we enter the summer season, we expect ridership will increase,” the statement said.
Some transit advocates worry the streetcar – which operates on city streets and sometimes gets stuck in traffic – will become a bottleneck in the larger light rail network.
“Transit is like a chain – it’s only as strong as its weakest link,” said Simon Berrebi, former head of the MARTA Army citizens group. “If you have a bottleneck smack in the center, every vehicle on the line will be slowed down.”
MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe said the agency’s professional staff will be examining the issue.