"MARTA sucks," the man on the train said loudly. Talk about a killjoy. He had just asked the women across from him how they liked the transit system after learning they were riding for the first time. One enthusiastically said she found it awesome. But he was quick to turn their positive experience into a negative one.
Although one of the safest (and easy to use) transit systems in the country, MARTA has struggled in one form or another since the first plans were created in the 1960s. Money, politics and race have all played a role in the condition Atlanta's public transportation is in today, and while there is room for criticism, overhearing this man bashing MARTA served as a reminder of what not to do, including:
Don't ruin someone's good experience
If someone is having a positive ride, there's no need to ruin a good thing with negative vents about MARTA. There are positive changes happening, but stressing what hasn't worked in the past may deter future ridership, and reduced ridership certainly doesn't help improve frequencies of trains and buses. Being a considerate commuter and following the Code of Conduct (including not playing music loudly, smoking or littering) also improves the experience for everyone. Only you can prevent someone's crappy MARTA commute.
Don't be self-centered and not know the facts
"It's gonna be 95 degrees out and we won't be able to sit in air-conditioned buses," the man went on. For one, we haven't had many 95-degree days in the past few summers. And second, the point of not allowing passengers to board unmanned buses at stations any longer is to prevent fare evasion, which means more money that MARTA can recover and use to improve service. CEO Keith Parker has already made large strides forward on that front, with improved rush hour service that started in May 2014. It isn't like MARTA is trying to make people sweat. Almost all service changes center around what is financially feasible and what will have the biggest impact on efficiency.
Be a doer, not a complainer
Most people who have ridden MARTA have a compliant or wish something was better or different. The same situation is true with transit systems in other cities (check out Unsuck DC Metro), so that isn't hugely unique to Atlanta. But always complaining if you aren't a regular rider (and may have had one jaded experience) or always complaining and not taking action doesn't do anything to improve MARTA. Think of the transit agency as the dirty, yet hopeful dog at the shelter that just wants a chance to be taken home. It's a team effort to clean it, care for it, make it people-friendly. One of the appropriate outlets for doing so is to use the See and Say app to alert security of any problems. They do show up, speed depending on location. (And using the app is much more effective than complaining on social media.). As for service problems and concerns, those are best reported to customer service (email better than phone) as they do investigate and log complaints. Late bus? Rude staff member? If MARTA doesn't know about it, they can't do anything about it.
The fact that MARTA gets such negative attention may actually be positive in some ways. Riders are noticing and caring about service enough to voice frustrations. But nothing will change if the haters continue to hate and don't take any action to actually create the change they wish to see. Voting pro-transit, reporting problems and taking ownership of the commute experience are easy places to start. If these processes are pursued and no changes are made, then by all means, complain. But, it certainly would be interesting to see what would happen if more people took positive action.