MARTA to suspend bus fares amid coronavirus outbreak

MARTA will suspend collection of fares on buses beginning Thursday and will take other steps as it seeks ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In a memo to employees Tuesday, the agency also said it will only board passengers from the rear door of each bus, except for customers who require an accessibility ramp. The move would help separate passengers from bus drivers.

Because fare boxes are located at the front door, MARTA will temporarily suspend collection of fares on buses. Customers transferring to or from trains will pay fares at rail stations. Customers who are only taking the bus would essentially ride for free.

The suspension of fares does not apply to MARTA’s paratransit service for the disabled and elderly.

MARTA also will close public restrooms at “low-utilization” stations. Bathrooms will still be open to the public at College Park, Doraville, Five Points, H.E. Holmes, Indian Creek, Lindbergh and North Springs. In the memo to employees, the agency described the move as an effort to prioritize “the health and safety of frontline employees.”

“We’re making operational adjustments to protect the health and wellness of employees,” MARTA spokeswoman Stephany Fisher said Tuesday.

MARTA previously announced stepped-up cleaning of trains, buses and other facilities to prevent the spread of the virus.

The moves come amid a growing coronavirus pandemic that has taken a toll on transit use across metro Atlanta. Citing the financial fallout, MARTA and other transit agencies nationwide are seeking $16 billion in federal aid to keep service afloat.

The decline in ridership continues this week. According to Tuesday’s employee memo, Monday’s rail ridership was down 67% from the average Monday in February. Bus ridership was down 55%.