MARTA able to sur­vive emer­gency, han­dle heavy Su­per Bowl traf­fic

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - COUNTY BY COUNTY - Doug Turn­bull

In this space two weeks ago and in AJC trans­porta­tion writer David Wick­ert’s late Jan­uary col­umn (“MARTA puts its rep­u­ta­tion, fu­ture on line,” Jan. 22), we agreed MARTA’s rep­u­ta­tion was at least par­tially on the line by how it op­er­ated dur­ing Su­per Bowl LIII. Su­per Bowl week was a com­pli­cated one for At­lanta’s bus and rail ser­vice, but judg­ing by the traf­fic flow and the pos­i­tive re­views of At­lanta from outof-town vis­i­tors, MARTA seems to have per­formed very well on the world’s stage. And this is de­spite sev­eral big ob­sta­cles along the way.

The big­gest prob­lem MARTA faced was com­pletely out of its con­trol. A fire near the tracks close to the busy Brookhaven Sta­tion caused big ser­vice in­ter­rup­tions Satur­day evening. But it wasn’t just one brush fire on an­other prop­erty that forced MARTA to set up a bus bridge be­tween the Lenox, Brookhaven, Cham­blee and Do­rav­ille rail stops.

“A Rail Su­per­vi­sor had all trains use the track far­thest away from the [ini­tial] fire,” MARTA spokesper­son Stephany Fisher told the AJC. So, the trains were still run­ning at that point. “That Su­per­vi­sor then re­ported a sec­ond fire, again, not on MARTA prop­erty, and or­dered all rail ser­vice through that por­tion of the Gold Line sus­pended.”

Fire­fight­ers ran out of wa­ter fight­ing the fires, which then caused the con­fla­gra­tions to rekin­dle as they searched for an­other wa­ter source. Fisher said this caused the bus bridge to last an hour and five min­utes, with seven north­bound trains stopped at Lenox and their pas­sen­gers sent to buses.

MARTA was feel­ing the bur­den of not only its busiest travel day in decades — 270,000 riders, which MARTA said is more than dou­ble that of a nor­mal Satur­day — but also a short­age in bus driv­ers, some of which were still call­ing out sick in a union dis­pute. But MARTA was pre­pared for that also, Fisher said.

“MARTA ex­pe­ri­enced de­lays on some bus routes be­cause of the bus op­er­a­tor sick-out. Su­per­vi­sors were pulled in to op­er­ate buses to min­i­mize the im­pact to cus­tomers. We were not an­tic­i­pat­ing a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in bus rid­er­ship sur­round­ing the Su­per Bowl since the ma­jor­ity of our cus­tomers ac­cessed the event venues on the rail sys­tem. The sick-out did not have an im­pact on rail ser­vice,” Fisher said, adding op­er­a­tors from other Metro At­lanta bus sys­tems pro­vided buses and work­ers to help with last Satur­day’s emer­gency bus bridge.

While peo­ple were up­set by the de­lays, the whole thing could have gone much worse. If MARTA had not staffed up, the rail sys­tem would not have been able to han­dle the crowds even with­out an emer­gency. If the agency hadn’t collaborated with Cob­bLinc, Gwin­nett Tran­sit, and SRTA — as they are do­ing in a broader way with the new ATL tran­sit sys­tem — then they wouldn’t have been able to quickly im­ple­ment a plan to move those com­muters to al­ter­nate routes.

The At­lanta Street­car,now run by MARTA, has of­ten been lightly used. But Fisher said that was a dif­fer­ent story last week­end: “The Street­car saw heavy rider- ship the en­tire three-day Su­per Bowl week­end, with rail cars filled to ca­pac­ity on al­most ev­ery trip.” But it had its dif­fi­cul­ties. “On Satur­day night, ser­vice was sus­pended when cars and over­flow crowds turned away from Cen­ten­nial Olympic Park filled the streets, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for the Street­car to move safely through the down­town area,” Fisher said.

We saw those hordes on the WSB Jam Cams all week­end along Ma­ri­etta St. and Cen­ten­nial Olympic Park Dr. Driv­ing down there was nearly im­pos­si­ble; mov­ing a street­car through there would seem un­rea­son­able as well. Fisher said that ser­vice re­sumed by 8 a.m. Sun­day.

MARTA ac­tu­ally saw sig­nif­i­cantly fewer riders on Su­per Bowl Sun­day — an es­ti­mated 155,000 — than on Satur­day. And Mass Ex­o­dus Mon­day saw 161,000 use the rail sys­tem. The se­cu­rity-line waits at the fully-staffed Harts­field-Jack­son At­lanta In­ter­na­tional Air­port saw many more de­lays than did MARTA.

At­lanta traf­fic and tran­sit en­dured a mil­lion vis­i­tors, dou­ble the amount of MARTA riders, tens of thou­sands more air trav­el­ers, a win­ter weather scare, a bus driver sick-out, a fire near the tracks, and sev­eral big game-re­lated road clo­sures. Lo­cals ei­ther stayed away or rode the rails. At­lanta traf­fic was light, con­sid­er­ing the large crowds in town. And MARTA game-planned enough to zig and zag with the prob­lems. At­lanta gets at least a solid B, if not bet­ter, for how it han­dled trav­el­ers on Su­per Bowl week. And MARTA was a big part of that.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY BRAN­DEN CAMP

Pas­sen­gers wear­ing jer­seys from their fa­vorite team ar­rive at the Ge­or­gia World Congress Cen­ter MARTA stop be­fore Su­per Bowl LIII be­tween the Los An­ge­les Rams and New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots on Feb. 3.

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