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What to know if you must ride MARTA during the coronavirus pandemic

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The transit agency is wiping down rail cars and buses, offering hand sanitizer, and changing service schedules

A nearly empty MARTA train car.
It’s quiet on MARTA these days.
MARTA, via Twitter

While governments across the country enact stay-at-home orders in an attempt to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, urban communities are beginning to resemble ghost towns.

Nevertheless, many people still need to travel to perform what officials are calling “essential activities,” such as stocking up on supplies or working jobs that are crucial for keeping communities functioning.

Although MARTA has watched ridership on its transit systems plummet in recent weeks—a 75 percent dip for rail users, and 59 percent drop in bus ridership—the agency’s trains and buses keep running, supporting medical professionals, food service workers, and more.

Like everyone enduring the trials of the viral outbreak, MARTA has had to adapt to suit the needs—and safety—of its riders.

MARTA implemented “an enhanced cleaning protocol of all vehicles and facilities in early March that has expanded to include midday cleanings of buses and rail cabs and high-touch areas,” MARTA spokeswoman Stephany Fisher told Curbed Atlanta in an email.

Cleaning crews are equipped with gloves, masks, goggles, and coveralls, she added.

MARTA is also closely monitoring nine confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus, among its employees. (Two are currently under medical care, and the rest are self-isolating at home.)

MARTA has also provided hand-sanitizing stations outside all its restrooms, entrances and exits, elevators, and break rooms, as of early March.

The transit agency has also suspended fare payment for bus service—part of an effort to reduce the amount of surfaces people have to touch when riding—and officials have enacted new protocols for boarding and exiting buses.

Bus passengers, save for people with disabilities and the elderly, are now expected to enter and exit buses via the back door only to prevent unnecessary contact with drivers.

“Additionally, 216 buses in MARTA’s fleet are equipped with a protective shield for operators,” Fisher said.

Due to the new bus rules, MARTA noticed some potentially problematic crowding toward the back of its buses.

“We’ve addressed that by adding buses on those routes and directing operators to display a ‘Bus Full’ notice when they are unable to pick up passengers,” said Fisher, nodding again to social distancing efforts.

And with ridership so low—at peak hours, there are 10 customers per rail car—MARTA has opted to revise its operating schedules.

MARTA rail systems are now operating on the Sunday schedule, which begins at 5 a.m. and has trains arriving at stations about every 20 minutes.

Bus services are also operating on modified weekday schedules, which can be viewed route-by-route here.

In more positive MARTA news, the pedestrian-friendly upgrade to the Inman-Park Reynoldstown train station recently wrapped up, reconnecting the north and south sides of DeKalb Avenue.