Steve McKinley enjoys riding the Xpress bus to the Perimeter from his home in Cumming, but he said he sees room for improvement.
McKinley, who works at Macy’s, said the Xpress bus arrives at the North Springs MARTA station right as the train headed to the Perimeter takes off. All he can do is wave as the train heads south. The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority runs the Xpress, while MARTA has its own board of directors.
“That’s my only complaint, having to wait 15 minutes for the next train,” McKinley said.
The commute of workers like McKinley is something that Perimeter employers consider when deciding to set up shop along the top end of I-285. Transportation advocates say the range of options for getting to and from offices at the Perimeter make the choice easier for companies.
Whether it’s easier for employees depends on where they begin their morning commute.
Groups like the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts and the Perimeter Transportation and Stability Coalition work to turn transportation options into assets for economic development.
“Of course the major assets we have here are the four MARTA stations, and most of the employers here are very excited they have access to MARTA here,” Perimeter CIDs President and CEO Yvonne Williams said.
There are also van and car pools, shuttles and pedestrian options for people getting to the Perimeter from elsewhere.
But there are also studies that show Atlanta traffic congestion hasn’t deterred drivers.
Two recent studies produced by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and American Public Transportation Association show a preference for cars over trains.
Texas A&M concluded that in 2011 Atlanta traffic congestion ranked seventh worst in the nation, costing drivers an additional 51 hours in traffic each year – a full work week, plus overtime. That’s up one hour from 2010.
APTA data shows ridership on MARTA declined in 2010, 2011 and 2012. MARTA rail reported approximately 77,000 unlinked passenger trips in 2010, according to APTA. In 2012, MARTA reported approximately 70,500 trips.
Public transit can be a good option for some employees.
Tamika Eldridge, who works at Autotrader.com, lives by the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and said her trip to the Perimeter is a straight shot north. Her ride to work typically takes 45 minutes to an hour.
“I don’t have to change trains,” Eldridge said. “I get on the North Springs line and we’re good to go through Medical Center [station].”
People who connect to MARTA using a bus provided by another agency said there’s room for improvement.
Karen Brown, who works at Equifax and lives in Gwinnett County, uses the Xpress bus service. She drives 30 minutes to catch her bus at Sugarloaf Mills Mall in Lawrenceville.
She takes the bus into the city, where it stops at the Civic Center MARTA and Arts Center MARTA stations. In order to get to work, Brown gets on a northbound MARTA train, a bit of backtracking that adds time to her commute. Brown said it would be helpful if she could get on the bus closer to where she lives.
The length of commute and the efficiency of mass transit are both considerations for employers looking for a place to do business.
Sean Saffle, executive director of the Perimeter Transportation and Sustainability Coalition, said the employment base of Atlanta is moving north because of MARTA. The PTSC is a sister group of Perimeter CIDs, working with companies to help employees find alternatives to driving. PTSC sells discounted MARTA passes and organizes car pools.
“Technology companies like our area, because it gives them access to people who want to live in Buckhead or Midtown,” Saffle said. “That’s when it gets back to real estate costs and parking. We do have an abundance of parking here. You almost have to pay everywhere you go in Midtown and Buckhead.”
David Dabbiere, chief operating officer for AirWatch, said his company was quickly outgrowing its space at the Lumberyard in Midtown. The parking lot was repainted to put the spaces closer together.
Moving to the Perimeter gave the company and its employees more elbow room, Dabbiere said. On any given day the company hosts visitors from Fortune 500 companies. Having easy access to the airport is essential, he said.
“We do have a lot of consultants that travel,” Dabbiere said. “They use MARTA to get to the airport. So we’re actually seeing for us increased usage.”
Dabbiere said he’d like to see a shuttle to reduce traffic at lunch time, and said he supports a shuttle project under development by the Perimeter Business Alliance.
He said he hopes the influx of companies to the Perimeter makes the area more of a place and less of a destination.
“I think you’d like to see a lot more people living here,” Dabbiere said.