Atlanta’s MARTA trains

For the past nine months I worked at a company that was around 17 miles (27kms) from where we live in Atlanta. Given my fear of driving on Atlanta highways and the desire to escape Atlanta rush hour traffic snarls, I used the MARTA trains to travel to and from work.

Read related: Driving basics: India and the US

MARTA stands for Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and is the main form of public transportation in Atlanta. MARTA trains and bus routes in Atlanta are a convenient way to get around the city if you don’t mind walking to and from the stops.

Every user needs a breeze card to use the MARTA service. These cards can be purchased very easily at the pay machines outside MARTA train stations. If you need to use the bus, you will need to buy your card at one of the main bus stations or any train station. Breeze cards can be topped up with cash value for rides either online or at any station. Rides are most economical if you can buy “rides” instead of selecting the “add cash” option. Some pay machines don’t offer the option to buy rides, so check online if you’re planning to use the card regularly.

Inside the station or at the bus stop, you will find the routes and ride options displayed. If you’re unsure, just ask the driver or MARTA staff or another passenger. The first time I used the MARTA, I met a kind elderly gentleman who gave me directions and it was really easy.

I learnt a few lessons about the trains and ways to make the most of my one hour rides every day.

Most trains have a recorded announcement which you can listen to to track your stop but sometimes there aren’t any announcements and you need to pay attention to the station chart or the station signs. Of course there are some drivers who like to make the announcement themselves and that’s usually interesting. Some make it fun and some talk loud and non-stop.

The most crowded train compartments are usually the ones closest to the entrance stairs since a lot of people make it just in time and rush in to the closest open train door.

The seats closest to the train doors are usually reserved for senior citizens, pregnant women and people with special needs. Check your seat before you sit down because some of them have food and drink spills or other stains.

In the mornings, you can find a few homeless people sleeping soundly on their seats. And sometimes there are people who are loud and clearly high on substances. All of them contribute to interesting train rides.

One morning, a gentleman sang loudly and out of tune for a while. We all noticed him – dressed for work and seemed all right. The compartment was crowded and his singing was not entertaining after a while. We heard someone say something to him and I didn’t hear what it was but I heard his loud reply. He laughed and said that he couldn’t stop singing because he had been homeless and hopeless for so long and he had finally found a job. He knew God was turning his life around. He had so much joy that people started cheering him on as he sang and shared his story. It was a pretty neat ride after that!

Even the most crowded trains offer plenty of standing space. Since the train stops at every station, people board and get off frequently and it’s usually easy to find an empty seat. Trains are air conditioned and usually colder than I prefer but wearing a light sweater helps.

My favorite part about the daily one hour ride was to find a comfortable seat with some uninterrupted reading time.  I’ve always enjoyed reading but in the last few months, I read more books, magazines and comics than I had in all of 2016!

MARTA rides are also great opportunities to catch up on planning and life reflections. You can see people staring out of the windows even inside tunnels. Some listen to music or watch videos offline. Quite naturally, phone and internet services don’t work inside tunnels.

Check the timings and routes on the MARTA website and try it the next time you’re in Atlanta!


The featured image was TOM’s Facebook cover photo for a while and features the MARTA overhead tracks at the West End station.

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