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For MARTA's bus routes, simpler might be better

Study to look at reorganizing MARTA's tangled web

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On certain days, Alexia Howard must board two buses and a train to get home -- a trip that takes more than an hour, even though she lives less than two miles from the Wal-Mart where she works.

But Howard, who was the subject of an April 20 CL cover story, now might be able to get home faster.

Late last month, MARTA reworked 24 of its 120 routes -- including one linking Howard's home to her job -- in an effort to ease riders' commutes.

Such tweaks aren't uncommon in the city's transit system. Every couple of months, MARTA expands the number of buses on one line while scaling back service on another.

But critics argue route changes don't fix the transit system's core problems -- and often deter riders who must constantly adapt to changing schedules.

"You don't take from Peter to pay Paul," says Terence Courtney, coordinator for Atlanta Jobs with Justice.

Transit activists are pushing MARTA to take a basic inventory of its bus routes -- many of which follow serpentine, illogical paths -- and then rework the entire system.

Caleb Racicot, a former city of Atlanta planner, says the lack of sensible routes is the product of MARTA's attempt to provide door-to-door service. By that logic, a single bus route can travel down as many as 30 different streets. To make matters worse, few bus stops display a map of the routes -- or even the route number of the bus that stops there.

Racicot says there's a simple solution: bus routes that go up and down major corridors, such as Peachtree Street, Moreland Avenue, Ponce de Leon Avenue and Memorial Drive.

That approach might have people walking a bit more, because only the bigger streets would have bus service. But riders would have a far easier time navigating a more grid-like system as opposed to a collection of routes that resembles a plate of spaghetti.

MARTA spokeswoman Cara Hodgson says that by the end of the year, MARTA will begin a system-wide study to find ways to improve its bus routes. The study, funded by the Atlanta Regional Commission, will take up to 18 months and cost $2.5 million.

GET INVOLVED: MARTA holds public hearings for proposed route changes each month. For more info, visit www.itsmarta.com.

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