• What’s The Real Cost of that MARTA Ride?

    By Staff
    February 20, 2016

    marta_logo MARTA is in the news a lot lately in Fulton County, as they push for more funds to expand heavy rail, especially in North Fulton County. We are told of the benefits of MARTA, and one could argue that there are indeed benefits, especially for those that do not own vehicles.

    MARTA is pushing today for a sales tax increase that would increase their sales tax revenues by 50%. By doing so, Fulton County will be increasing the subsidies that are given for each MARTA rider.

    But what is the true cost of this Mass Transit system today, and where do the funds come from? Is it a positive or negative expense when it comes to other modes of transport?

    Only 22% of MARTA’s funding comes from fares.

    Twenty-two percent of MARTA’s funding comes from Fare Revenue, 58% from sales tax revenues, and the other 20% from other sources such as State and Federal government. What would it cost if MARTA relied entirely on fares, and not on sales tax dollars, and federal and state dollars?

    Using this data, I can make a rough calculation of just what this trip on MARTA would cost.

    “MARTA needs an additional $8.86 to cover the cost of one trip.”

    Let’s take a family of four, who have decided to take a trip to the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coke. They would need to spend $20 on fares to go to those attractions and return. To help cover the cost of these trips, MARTA today collects an additional $8.86 per trip, or $70.88, for a total of $90.88.

    While that may be a great deal for the family on that day, is that really a great deal for our society overall? We must ask ourselves should we spend more than necessary overall just for the sake of spending it?

    The distance from North Springs MARTA Station (a possible boarding point for our family) is 14.9 miles by vehicle to the World of Coke, according to Google Maps.

    Before gas prices plunged, the estimated cost to drive a large SUV (insurance, taxes, gas, etc) was 75.7 cents per mile.  It’s much cheaper now to fuel up, even at a higher price per mile, it’s still cheaper.

    Therefore the distance to and from our destinations would be 30 miles. The cost would be around $22.71 plus parking. Splurge on parking for $15 dollars and the trip costs $37.71. More than $53 less expensive than mass transit.

    “Are We Better Off In The End?”

    Is our society better off by having a family of four taking mass transit for a total real cost of $90.88, or taking their own vehicle for a cost of $37.71?

    The other $53.17 must come from somewhere. Where that somewhere is can be debated. Taken from your pockets every time you spend a dollar, taken from your tax returns at both the federal and state levels, taken from your future earnings as we pay off the ever-increasing federal debt, it will be taken.

    Here is one of the major shortcomings of Mass Transit and why it fails to compete with personal vehicles: In your own vehicle, the cost per passenger per mile plummets the more passengers you have. With Mass Transit, your costs increase proportionally.

    “There are no economies of scale with Mass Transit”

    For the family of four, the cost per passenger for this trip is $37.71 divided by 4, or $9.42 per passenger. Add another passenger and it would only be $7.52. Add another passenger on Mass Transit and you will spend 20% more on fares.

    I’d argue no, our society is NOT better off. We’d be better off if every family was able to keep as much of their earned income as possible and spend it in a manner that they chose.

    Imagine for a second that MARTA did not exist. There would be a lot more money in the pockets of everyone in Atlanta.  The money they could spend on dining, retail, health care, entertainment, and other choices.

    It’s my belief that we need our elected officials to look at the true total costs of any project or service that they promote, and are asking their constituents to fund. It’s also inappropriate to look at a project and say it’s costing us less because we are getting Federal and State dollars to offset the costs. Unless you are exempt from federal and state taxes, you (or your children in the future) will be paying for the entire costs. There is no free ride.

    I’ll leave you to think about that choice. Then share with me your thoughts. I’d love to know whether or not you still think MARTA is SMARTA after all?

    Cost of owning and operating a vehicle in the USA

    MARTA Annual Report




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    These calculations do not take into account of maintenance of roads and traffic accidents or that fact that we are growing in population, which means you can continue to expand roads - which is really not sustainable in a big metro city - which is why all big metro cities invest in mass transit.

    EJ Moosa

    @ Sherryheyl,

    What calculations are needed to understand the cost of a MARTA trip? Mass transit cannot exist without the very same roads that the rest of us use.

    Also, share with us your calculations that show building a transit system, which has been losing ridership, is sustainable in the long run, is sustainable.

    We've been supporting this system since the early 70's. When will it reach critical mass to be successul?

    How much more will we need to spend?


    So, what happens if we eliminate all buses and trains in Atl (ie. if MARTA didn't exist)? Traffic would be worse. All the riders without cars would have to buy cars or loose jobs. Our marginal air quality would get worse. People that can't solve their transport problem would cease to be being part of our economy.

    500,000 people use MARTA every day. There are 5 million people in the metro area. Some are elderly, some work at home, some are children, etc... but many of the 5 million commute. Which means that if MARTA didn't exist we could expect a roughly 10-20% increase in traffic.

    Here is another way to look at this, is it worth a penny to get those people off the road, have cleaner air and help more people have jobs? If MARTA didn't exist then people would have more money to spend...on hiring people to build and fix roads and to do all the things they can't do because they are stuck in even more traffic. Compounding the problem, the number of people you can hire to help you with these tasks just went down because nobody can get anywhere to do more work because of the traffic.

    Just because MARTA is far less than perfect doesn't make "nothing" a better solution.


    A penny sales tax is worth it to have an alternative to going to the airport or when GA 400 is at a stand still. The author wrote think of how much money we could have saved by not spending a penny on Marta....not much.....most items such as your rent or mortgage is not subject to sales tax. Most people probably don't even spend 30k a year on sales taxable items....so 1% is less than a dollar a day.

    How much do we spend when we get 10 miles a gallon during rush hour and it takes two to three hours a day round trip to go to and from work? That penny is a great value.....even if only a few are using it.

    The officials in this state have intentionally refused to fund Marta or Roads.....they will vote for members in Congress to spend trillions rebuilding IRAQ, but bicker over gas tax increases and Marta to improve their own community. Intentionally under funding basic infrastructure is not conservatism.....it's negligence and it has caught up with us.


    500,000 people do not use MARTA every day. For 2015,184k per day used MARTA. That represents 4 % of the population, not 10 %, and since many take their own vehicles to catch a train, the increase in traffic would be dramatically less, and certainly not 10-20%.


    Now what would an additional $750 million dollars spent annually in Metro Atlanta on roads have done to alleviate our traffic issues?

    T Swank

    NO NO NO MARTA IN NORTH FULTON! EVER!! it is not fiscally responsible to bring Marta any further up GA 400 than where it currently stops. The majority of homeowners and citizens will not use it on a regular basis. I have lived here 25 years and this issue keeps rearing its ugly head. I think we're on the right track by building what we need here and encouraging business growth and relocation here, therefore eliminating the need or desire to travel south on GA 400 daily. South Fulton can have it as far as I'm concerned, I'm tired of my tax dollars funding it anyway!

    Sheryl Haley

    Just say NO, NO, NO to LIBERAL Brandon Beach... whose bills have already raised or plan to raise OUR taxes by BILLIONS of dollars. Brandon *TAX&SPEND* Beach needs our help and compassion. Contact your family, friends and acquaintances - anyone eligible to vote - in state senate District 21 and tell them to send TAX ADDICT Brandon Beach to REHAB... not to the senate!

    Early voting is in progress. There is a clear CHOICE... get the message out ASAP:



    It is so backward and selfish to consider scrapping mass transit. The entire world especially big international cities have extensive and great mass transit. We should look at better and more efficient transit. Traffic in Atlanta is a nightmare and despite the HOV lanes very few people carpool. Reducing Marta would only increase the traffic bottle neck.

    EJ Moosa


    Then why don't we do the obvious thing? We are only covering 22% of the cost of MARTA with fares.

    There is a lot of overhead with fare collection: upgrades, staff, fare boxes, etc.

    Let's eliminate all fares, reward those for taking MARTA and getting off the roads, and the rest of us will cover the rest of that 22%.


    page 6
    2,100,000 (employment estimate, you have to add the numbers)

    Page 9
    1.6 population served

    Page 17
    438,900 average weekday trips

    I'm not sure where you found 184k, it's not in the linked document. Page 8, right in the text there is the number 433 and that nearly matches the number from the APTA research.

    If you do the math, it works out to exactly 10.45% of the employed population if you assume each employee makes two trips each day. If you consider that MARTA doesn't serve the entire metro area (population served is much less than employment for the area) then you'll realize there will be less impact on routes like 75 north and more impact on the 400 and 85 corridors inside the perimeter since there is a proportionally higher percentage of MARTA riders from those directions with service at each end of the trip. Maybe the impact varies from between 5% and 20%, but it will be significant and across all roads.

    I can appreciate that you found different numbers but really, does it change the point? Even using 184K it's still like emptying over two GA Domes onto our highways every day.

    One thing to note in the APTA report (page 3 and 4) is that every major US city is in that report. No one has built a major city without mass transit. I don't see why sane people want to live their life in a giant experiment. We can't keep adding lanes to roads that concept follows the law of diminishing returns. You can't even add 5% more cars to our roads during rush hour, it would create gridlock. If you add more lanes, you get years of construction and gridlock and more lanes means more maintenance which means more construction and...gridlock. Look around, we spend billions on roads and most of us drive and the solution doesn't work very well. When I'm on the trains, I get on and it always takes me the exact same amount of time to get to my destination. Wouldn't it be cool if the roads worked like that?

    Final note, MARTA covers about 30% of it's expenses from rider fees (page ii from the budget). Just found it funny how people only check certain numbers...

    Tommie Swank

    @ anonymous,
    You consider me and others who think like me that don't want MARTA, backwards and selfish?? Backwards and selfish is asking people to help pay for a service that they will not use when they are already over taxed and paying for South Fulton! You should think before you speak. Numbers don't lie. And if you really stand behind what you think you wouldn't sign your comments anonymous!


    But if Marta has less vacancy on those already running trains, Marta wouldn't be paying for empty seats during non peak hours. There is no question that expanding Marta will increase ridership. By allocating the same amount of trains running the same distance, it makes it more efficient. Marta IS needed.

    Chris Coughlin

    I think there is a disconnect about MARTA's data. I think JCR is referencing "Heavy Rail" round trips. Yes, MARTA serves approximately 400k a day, but that includes ALL modes of transportation (e.g., buses, heavy rail, etc.). The issue of discussion is heavy rail. The APTA link shows about 230k ave riders per weekday for unlinked passenger trips. However, please remember that APTA operationally defines a passenger trips as one trip and does not take into account multiple trips (e.g., someone transferring from rail to bus would be considered 2 trips; a round trip for one person is consider two trips). So, that 230k number is substantially lower. Per MARTA's data on page 8 of the referenced links, only 75,000 people use MARTA to commute to work everyday. I don't care if you want MARTA or not, but please use the correct data. Looks like JCR is closer to the correct number at this time.


    MARTA's data says that 22% of their budget comes from fares.


    Page 24 states:

    Fare Revenue
    provides 22% of the total.

    135 million passenger rode MARTA in 2015(rail and bus). Divide that by 2 and you have 67.5 million passengers. Divide that by 365 days and you have 185 thousand average riders per day. Your original post said average daily riders, not weekday riders.


    Chris thinks we are talking about Heavy Rail.
    JCR and Moosa use numbers for all MARTA riders.
    JCR and Moosa quote numbers from an executive summary that appears to be compiled by the marketing dept. (the actual budget is right there, why aren't we using that)
    Chris thinks those numbers are more accurate than the numbers from the budget and/or APTA.

    OK, fine, I'll live with any of those discrepancies because they seem minor to me but can we cut to the chase and someone explain how those people no longer riding MARTA will get from point A to point B? No matter if it's 5%, 10% or 20% increase in traffic, our roads are pretty much full now. If you don't know that you really shouldn't be involved in this discussion. If you want to consider this issue then before it gains traction why not step up and spell out:

    1) The cost to increase our road infrastructure to handle the former MARTA passengers.
    2) The time to implement this "better system" and that impact on our traffic.

    Ready, Fire, Aim doesn't work. MARTA passengers don't go to heaven if you eliminate MARTA. Even if they did and there was no impact on traffic there would be economic impacts. 75,000 may under represent the problem but even that is a big number. If you want to propose big changes that fly in the face of the solution implemented in EVERY MAJOR URBAN AREA and you wish to do so based on numbers from marketing at least consider the entire problem and not just the "savings". You sound like "people" returning from the grocery store.

    Chris, how do you honestly suggest anyone is only talking about the heavy rail when in the same post you assume that all MARTA riders make multiple transfers when riding MARTA? Those transfers are not all bus to bus nor all rail to rail. There will be a significant number that use rail and bus. You can't replace rail with a bus, it would make the "cost" problem much worse. So the rail riders go away with the rail and they stop riding the bus too and you have less bus riders on many bus routes. That's going to drive up the cost per rider for buses. Then the same logic as used here eliminates the buses (if it doesn't already apply). If we accept this logic and eliminate the heavy rail it's just plain dumb to keep the buses. Talk of pulling the system apart one link at a time does help to kick the "dumb" down the road but that isn't smart. Talking about eliminating heavy rail is the same as eliminating all of MARTA. Seriously, can you defend the economics of the buses but argue to remove the rail?

    I could live without MARTA but this is a HALF BAKED PLAN and it's this sort of half baked plan that people jump on board with because the half baked logic and power points sound good. Some marketing dept numbers and some hand waving and some "savings" and everyone is excited about how awesome it will be. If we eliminate MARTA, in 20 years or so we will figure out it was stupid and we will spend billions to rebuild what we now have.

    EJ Moosa

    I love it when you use an organizations own data, and then you are told it is invalid. The report I reference is for 2016. Your data is from 2014.

    Don't argue with me. Contact MARTA and determine why their numbers disagree.

    The bottom line is MARTA does not work to the level of success in Atlanta that Mass Transit does elsewhere. We have different density patterns. We have a multitude of business centers.

    No matter how hard you try to shove a square peg into a round hole, you are going to have excessive waste. You will either need to shave the square peg to make it fit, or get a smaller peg.

    Chris Coughlin

    Hi anonymous, my assumptions are made that transfers/round trips happen with nearly every rider and you have to take that into account when referencing the APTA data. That's all. I don't think there are many one way rides, but I could be wrong and that's why I was using MARTA's data to demonstrate low HR ridership. I don't think anyone is trying to get rid of MARTA altogether, they're just concerned at the cost and effectiveness of extending the red line to Windward. North Fulton doesn’t have the density to support a significant ridership population so, perhaps, the most effective solution is offering bus express routes to NF at a fraction of the cost while at the same time satisfactorily meeting the demand of NF transit riders? Why is that not considered instead? Here are some thoughts on some alternatives to the heavy rail that should be considered - http://www.georgiapolicy.org/2016/02/senior-fellow-baruch-feigenbaum-testifies-at-senate-committee-hearing-on-marta/. I understand this gets everyone emotional one way or another, but we still need to see what the best fit is regardless of our own predilections.


    MARTA receives 0 state and federal funding, someone needs to do their research.

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