All night Tuesday, MARTA trains ran on their tracks, keeping mechanisms warm for the morning commute.
But early Wednesday, with many businesses closed and schools out, fewer than 5,000 people decided to use MARTA to get around metropolitan Atlanta — less than a quarter of the normal ridership. So at 7:30 a.m., MARTA officials decided to operate a weekend schedule, with trains running every 20 minutes as opposed to every 10 minutes, said Stephany Fisher, a MARTA spokesperson. Bus service also was curtailed.
As of 4 p.m., it seemed like the decision was on track with the number of riders. Just 28,000 people had stepped on a MARTA bus or train, a 76 percent decrease from the 118,000 riders who used MARTA services last Wednesday.
But demand is expected to be higher Thursday.
MARTA again planned to run trains overnight in order to keep everything working, though Fisher said the system will continue its modified schedules, with trains coming every 10 to 20 minutes. Limited bus service will continue, with buses sticking to major roads and routes with medical centers.
The agency reported several problems related to the weather Wednesday, including train delays and some stuck vehicles. But Fisher said no one was injured.
Most of the delays on trains were related to cold weather, Fisher said. Cold weather is often more of an issue than ice and snow, she said, because it affects how braking systems work — and MARTA’s trains weren’t built to handle it.
There was a 40-minute delay on the Gold Line on Wednesday when there was a problem with a train’s air compressor at the Doraville station, Fisher said, and both Red and Gold lines had a 24-minute delay just before 11:30 a.m. when a train at the Lindbergh Station had an air pressure issue. On the Red Line, ice kept some trains’ doors from closing, Fisher said, causing a 20-minute delay.
Fisher said the primary issues were on buses because roads were not clear enough to run routes. Twenty-five slid off roads or got stuck Wednesday morning, before they picked up passengers.
Randy Clarke, vice president of operations and member services for the American Public Transportation Association, said southern cities like Atlanta are less prepared for, and less culturally used to, the elements. He said from clearing platforms to making sure buses can run, “there’s a lot to this.”
“It’s not just vehicles going up and down the tracks,” he said.
Residents are used to school closings, “but if transit somehow gets impacted, people are just astonished,” Clarke said.
Simon Berrebi, a software developer who has a doctorate in bus operations from Georgia Tech, said even with some delays, MARTA has shown an “amazing capacity” to keep its system running and get people where they need to go.
Berrebi said MARTA has done a good job of upkeep, which helped prevent further delays. Even with the agency’s switch to a weekend schedule, he said, people were able to use the service as they needed it.
Wednesday morning, Greg Amroso was one of those people. He is not a regular MARTA rider, but he’d left his laptop on his desk at his office Tuesday evening and had work to do. He walked a short distance from his home to the station in downtown Decatur and was headed to 10th and Peachtree streets.
“I didn’t want to drive because the streets were icy,” he said. “It’s not a good day to drive.”
The usually busy Five Points Station was like ghost town. There were no people pushing through the turnstiles at the plaza and only a smattering of passengers were waiting on the platforms.
Mohamed Saleh, who was taking MARTA to the airport for the first time in about 10 years, was shivering on the platform at the Five Points station, waiting for a south-bound train. He said on the drive from his home in Clarkston to the Kensington station he saw two wrecks, including one in which one car appeared to have slid into a police car on Memorial Drive.
“People know that they can count on MARTA,” Berrebi said. “It’s days like these, you really see the impact of public transportation.”
Staff writer Rhonda Cook contributed to this story.