The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is the principal public transport operator in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Formed in 1971 as strictly a bus system, MARTA operates a network of bus routes linked to a rapid transit system consisting of 48 miles (77 km) of rail track with 38 train stations. It is the eighth-largest rapid transit system in the United States by ridership.
MARTA operates almost exclusively in Fulton, Clayton, and DeKalb counties, although they maintain bus service to two destinations in neighboring Cobb County (Six Flags Over Georgia and the Cumberland Transfer Center next to the Cumberland Mall). MARTA also operates a separate paratransit service for disabled customers. As of 2014, the average total daily ridership for the system (bus and rail) was 432,900 passengers.[
MARTA was originally proposed as a rapid transit agency for DeKalb, Fulton, Clayton, Gwinnett, and Cobb counties. These were the five original counties in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and to this day are the five largest counties in the region and state. MARTA was formed by an act of the Georgia General Assembly in 1965. In the same year, four of the five metropolitan area counties (Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett) and the City of Atlanta passed a referendum authorizing participation in the system, but the referendum failed in Cobb.
Although a 1968 referendum to actually fund MARTA failed, in 1971, voters in Fulton and DeKalb counties successfully passed a 1% sales tax increase to pay for MARTA operations, while Clayton and Gwinnett counties overwhelmingly rejected the tax in the referendum, fearing the introduction of crime and supposed "undesirable elements" in an era of white flight to the suburbs. Gwinnett County remains outside of the MARTA system (but will vote again in March 2019); however in November 2014, Clayton County voters passed a 1% sales tax to join the MARTA system, reversing its 1971 decision. Also in 1971, the agency agreed to purchase the existing, bus-only Atlanta Transit Company; the sale of the company closed on February 17, 1972, giving the agency control over all public transit in the immediate Atlanta area.
Construction began on MARTA's heavy rail system in 1975, with the first rail service commencing on June 30, 1979.[ The system has since built most of the proposed rail lines, as well as stations in Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, and North Springs which were not included in the original plan. The missing rail segments from the original plan include a Tucker-North DeKalb line with service to Emory University and North Druid Hills, a Northwest line with service to Brookwood and Northside Drive, extension of the West line to Brownlee-Boulder Park near Fairburn Road, extension of the Proctor Creek line to West Highlands, and a branch off the south line to Hapeville and Clayton County
MARTA is composed of both heavy rail rapid transit, light rail transit, and a bus transit system that operates primarily within the boundaries of Fulton, Clayton and DeKalb counties. In addition to Atlanta itself, the transit agency serves various suburbs within its service area, including Alpharetta, Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, Chamblee, Clarkston, College Park, Decatur, Doraville, Dunwoody, East Point, Ellenwood, Fairburn, Forest Park, Hapeville, Jonesboro, Lake City, Lovejoy, Lithonia, Morrow, Palmetto, Riverdale, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, and Union City. MARTA also serves the airport via a station located next to the main terminal. Although Cobb County is not part of the MARTA system, the agency operates one limited bus route to the Cumberland Boulevard Transfer Center and another to Six Flags Over Georgia.
The MARTA system allows bicycles on its trains and buses have room for 2 bikes on racks mounted on the front of the bus.At the airport, bicycles can be locked up in all of the parking decks, so long as they are not obstructing either pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
In 2007, MARTA had 4,729 full and part-time employees, of whom 1,719 were bus drivers or train operators..