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MARTA saw no lasting increase in ridership from the I-85 bridge collapse

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Proponents hoped the catastrophe would mark a permanent shift toward public transit. It didn’t.

A MARTA train arriving at a crowded platform at Five Points Station. JTesFaye

The collapse of the Interstate 85 bridge and subsequent six-week closure of one of Atlanta’s most important vehicular arteries was an excellent opportunity to introduce those accustomed to commuting by car to alternative forms of transit.

Many saw it as a chance to hook the masses on MARTA, and an initial jump of ridership by 25-percent looked promising.

Since the road reopened in May, however, it seems the majority of commuters have returned to their old ways, with ridership falling to pre-collapse levels, according to 11Alive.

While the quick repair of the road was celebrated by myriad commuters who were impacted by the closure, the relatively short outage meant that alternatives such as telecommuting and flex hours were viable tactics to survive the six-week outage.

Factors for the abandonment of transit since the reopening probably have a lot to do with the short duration of the closure, and the fact that MARTA simply doesn’t serve many areas beyond the urban core. (It’s unlikely that unusual incidents such as a shooting and fire—which the MARTA system has yet to explain—drove patrons away). But there’s more to it than that.

As 11Alive highlights, it’s more likely that the seemingly frequent service interruptions that daily riders contend with regularly were a major turnoff to new users.

Delays on July 4, which caused hundreds of Peachtree Road Race participants to arrive late at the starting line, underscored the frustration. For occasional users, breakdowns in service on high-demand days destroy confidence in the usability of the system.

Clearly, it’ll take more than a temporary transportation meltdown to get Atlantans on MARTA. Increased reliability, frequency, and destinations served will be key in convincing metro residents to get on board.

Maybe that can happen with the new tax investment promised for the system. Maybe not.