MARTA ridership began dropping significantly – down roughly 10% to 20% for buses and 25% or more on rail – as the first weekend of coronavirus pandemic shutdowns took hold. 

“Due to the unprecedented steps taken in response to COVID-19 [the disease caused by the new coronavirus], such as events and trips canceled, schools closed, businesses encouraging teleworking, and diminished social interaction, MARTA has seen a significant decrease in ridership systemwide,” said Stephany Fisher, a spokesperson for the transit agency. “This does have the benefit of creating more space between those customers who must continue to work and who rely on MARTA daily. MARTA will continue to monitor ridership numbers and patterns and may adjust service accordingly.” 

MARTA did not provide specific ridership figures, but offered a chart of percentage decreases in ridership for the weekend of Friday, March 13 – when many pandemic controls began to take effect – and the previous weekend of March 6.

A chart provided by MARTA showing the percentage decrease in its ridership by bus and rail for the weekend of Friday, March 13 as compared with the previous weekend.

Systemwide bus ridership was down 10% that Friday and Saturday, and 19% Sunday, over the previous weekend. Rail ridership was down 24% Friday, 47% Saturday and 25% Sunday. 

The especially large difference on Saturday, March 14, may be because the previous Saturday was the date of an Atlanta United soccer game, which often draw many transit riders. 

Station-specific ridership comparisons were not immediately available.

Workers clean and disinfect a MARTA station as part of the transit agency’s coronavirus pandemic response. (MARTA)

For MARTA, the situation is something of a reverse of transit usage during another lingering incident considered a major crisis at the time, but now paling in comparison to a pandemic: the 2017 fire that knocked out a section of I-85 in Buckhead. That traffic-jamming incident, which also began in March and lasted six weeks, caused most local MARTA stations to see ridership increases of roughly 25% to 30%. 

MARTA itself previously recommended teleworking as the pandemic response began. In a March 13 statement, MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker said the transit agency planned to operate as normal unless it was forced to cut back due to such factors as an official decree, lower ridership or staffing issues. 

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.