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MARTA's On the Right Track, but Can It Ever be Sexy?

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MARTA's been relishing in awesomeness the last few months with increased ridership, a spiffed-up image and renewed expansion plans. At the heart of many changes is CEO Keith Parker, who's spearheaded new initiatives, assisted by the upswing of the economy. While smaller changes such as running more frequent trains, reopening station restrooms and improving fare collection might make the system more user-friendly, MARTA still has a long way to go toward convincing the masses to climb aboard. An Atlanta magazine article looks at the new and improved MARTA and asks a pertinent question: Can MARTA be cool?

MARTA is fighting an uphill battle. Unlike in other major cities, many with long-established transit systems, most Atlantans rely solely on cars. A product of the age of the city and MARTA itself, the demographics of the city and the sheer sprawl of the (sub)urban realm, it's nearly impossible for most Atlantans to utilize MARTA in their daily lives. Hell, until late last year, only two counties in the 14-county Metropolitan Statistical Area had MARTA service. Of course, that all changed with Clayton County's landmark vote to join the club, expanding the reach of the system for the first time since its inception in the 1970s. The addition, however, might not capture substantially more ridership above-and-beyond the paltry 3-percent who currently use transit in their daily lives — while large cities like New York enjoy 10 times the per capita ridership rates.

Where MARTA has the potential to grow the most: The areas around the existing network, where people are bucking the trend of decentralization in favor of living in-town. With ground set to be broken on two developments adjacent to MARTA stations this year, and others planned, MARTA is setting about building its own rider base from the ground up. The methodology is reinforced by private-sector growth along the north-end Perimeter as massive developments are planned and built along the MARTA red line corridor.

So anyway, about this business of being "cool."

All of this points to an important demographic shift of the user base, which is telling about how people perceive MARTA. As developers purposefully build around stations, and as people vote to join the MARTA service area, they are demonstrating that they choose to use transit. With growth in sectors where people ride transit because of a desire — be it to save themselves from traffic or to be environmentally friendly, and not out of necessity — it's the first hint that MARTA might be becoming the "in" thing to do.

· Can CEO Keith Parker make MARTA cool? [Atlanta Magazine]
· Does MARTA Have a Cure for Atlanta's Mixed-Use Fever? [Curbed Atlanta]
· Toilets, Wifi & Schedules: Is MARTA Finally on the Right Track? [Curbed Atlanta]
· Stats Suggest that MARTA is Crushing it Right Now [Curbed Atlanta]