MARTA freebie boosted ridership, not crime

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A train leaves the Kensington MARTA station in Decatur on Thursday May 17th, 2012. PHIL SKINNER / PSKINNER@AJC.COM
MARTA rolls near the King and Queen along Ga. 400.

MARTA rolls along Ga. 400.

MARTA flung open its fare gates this past Labor Day, offering free rides in a special promotion to reward long-term customers and help gain new ones.

On that day, the transit agency had a 21 percent increase in rail ridership and a 40.2 percent increase on bus ridership, according to a presentation Thursday in a Planning and External Relations Committee meeting of the MARTA Board.

“When we look at free fare day, it started off very successful,” said Ryland McClendon, Assistant General Manager of External Affairs for MARTA. “We did challenge our police force in the end. We want to look at that, so we can come forth with a program that ideally accomplishes what we are trying to do to get more riders on the system but not raise any additional challenges for the MARTA staff.”

MARTA Police scheduled more officers to work than usual on that day so that they could beef up their presence on buses and trains. However, a widely circulated YouTube video prompted questions about whether the free ride promotion may have attracted a more unruly crowd. (The video showed a fight that occurred on a train packed with passengers.)

Asked about the fight on Thursday, McClendon said it was “an isolated incident.” And MARTA records indicate there were actually a dozen fewer calls for police service on Labor Day of this year than for the same holiday last year, when no free rides were offered.

Last year, there were 329 MARTA police calls on Labor Day; this year there were 317.

So the promotion likely did not attract a more rowdy crowd — or if it did, not a rowdy enough crowd to elicit a larger number of police calls from other passengers.

“I rode the system and everybody was fine,” McClendon said. “Trains were packed and everybody was enjoying the ride.”

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