MARTA bus service will be discontinued due to staffing shortages related to COVID-19

Staffing shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are forcing the city of Atlanta’s transportation system to cut its bus routes starting in December.

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The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority plans to move 96 of its 113 routes to a Saturday schedule starting Dec. 18. According to reports, the agency has seen ridership drop to about half of what it was before the coronavirus pandemic.

Eleven of MARTA’s most heavily used routes will retain regular schedules, and six routes that do not operate on Saturdays will also retain regular schedules on weekdays. No routes will be deleted and there will be no changes to train service.

“It’s not something we want to do,” CEO Jeffrey Parker told MARTA’s board last week. “It’s something that we think is a rational and appropriate thing that we want to do under the circumstances.”

Deputy Managing Director Collie Greenwood said the reduction in bus schedules will allow MARTA to better equip its routes and provide customers with more predictable service.

“We felt that the alternative was to keep showing the same hours and keep customers guessing what the level of service would be tomorrow,” Greenwood told the board.

MARTA’s budget includes funding for 1,366 bus drivers. But the number of drivers fell to 1,179 – 14% below full strength.

Greenwood said employees left for a variety of reasons, but the coronavirus pandemic is a big factor and absenteeism has taken its toll. So far, 921 MARTA employees have tested positive for COVID-19. An additional 60 drivers ignored MARTA’s recent requirement to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly tests, and they are now at risk of being fired. If MARTA lays off these drivers, its number of bus drivers will be down by 18%.

MARTA officials do not know how long the service cuts will last. The agency plans to gradually restore service as it hires more drivers.

Greenwood said MARTA has stepped up recruitment efforts — including reaching out to retired drivers — to address the staffing shortage.

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Melvin Z. Madore