The Memorial Drive corridor is approximately 8 miles long and the Q operates two services: The Q Express and the Q Limited. The Q Express runs between MARTA's Kensington Station and a free 150-car park-and-ride lot at Goldsmith Road and Memorial Drive. The Express only stops twice along the way at North Hairston Road and again at Georgia Perimeter College. The Q Limited also runs north along Memorial Drive from Kensington Station, but branches off at North Hairston Road on the way to East Ponce de Leon Avenue. The Q Limited has four stops along the way in addition to the same stops for the Express. The Q operates at 10-minute frequencies during peak hours.
The MARTA Q buses operate in mixed traffic with signal priority at 26 intersections along the corridor. Working with the DOT, MARTA had Q Jumping Lanes installed at two major intersections, which allow the buses to bypass long queues at the intersections using a unique signal before the directional is allowed to have a green light.
"What happens is the bus has the advantage to clear the intersection ahead of the traffic without having to be held up. Additionally, what signal priority does is when a bus is approaching the emitter is transmitting to the receptor at the signal and the receptor will hold the green for a specified time to allow the bus to clear the intersection. That's what you have, signal priority working to get the buses through holding green and then you have two jumping intersections that allow the buses to pass by traffic to get ahead," Dunning explains.
Currently MARTA Q doesn't provide real-time information for passengers, but Dunning says it is something they hope to look to do and it would come with a systematic approach.
"This was really the first shot at doing something like this in the region. We know in due time we'd like to have that type of real-time information," Dunning says. "This service does include a different type of bus stop as well, we have with those limited stops and express stops pavilions that provide shelter for a larger set of people. With the different type of shelter and treatment, that's where the minor branding we did for the service is. We have the Q service which is one brand and what people actually see out there is the pavilions or the different shelter amenities the customers have, and we think in due time we'll provide that real-time information and would do so in those pavilions."
In addition, MARTA Q is currently still using the Breeze Smart Card that is used on the traditional service as well. "At the park and ride lot folks can load the media at the Breeze machine there and then come on in, but at the same time they still need to load up like they would any other service," Dunning says.
However, off board fare collection is a service Dunning says they'd like to move to in future. The MARTA Q service uses the same vehicles as the conventional bus system. Dunning explains that MARTA recently had a procurement of 101 40-foot, CNG powered buses and "didn't get a chance to go out and get any unique buses for the corridor given the times that we're in. There has been some thoughts though that we may want to go with a full-scale BRT implementation, that you would want introduce some kind of high capacity vehicles, but we haven't gotten to that point yet."
So far, the numbers are pointing toward success for MARTA Q. Prior to the launch of MARTA Q, the local Route 121 was carrying approximately 5,500 riders. After the launch of the Q, it is still carrying about 4,000 riders. However, the two new services collectively are carrying 1,300 riders a day, and it only operates during peak hours.
"That is what we have seen so far preliminarily, I keep emphasizing that because we really want to continue studying that because we think it will be higher than that. We have about 300 new riders in the corridor associated with this service," Dunning says.