The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) celebrated its 40th anniversary of combined rail and bus service at a stakeholder reception followed by a free festival and concert on Nov. 3.
In 1979, MARTA’s first train ran from Avondale to Georgia State. The first ride was the culmination of support from the General Assembly, which created the Georgia State Study Commission on Rapid Transit; then Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, who signed bills to help fund transit; the U.S. Department of Transportation, which approved a nearly $70 million grant for rapid rail and additional bus routes; and support via local referendums. Also critical to MARTA’s story is the late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, who spoke in favor of transit and recognized its significance in positioning Atlanta as a world class city and economic epicenter.
At the stakeholder reception, MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker addressed more than 130 guests, including elected officials, board members, community partners and other stakeholders who have supported the authority’s growth during its 40-year history. Parker shared MARTA’s future plans, making note of state of good repair projects and expansion, including station enhancements, new rail cars and buses and bus rapid transit in Summerhill. Additionally, he spoke of the streetcar expansion, high capacity transit commuter rail in Clayton County and bus rapid transit in Fulton County, contingent upon revenue from an additional sales tax.
“The authority has come a long way in 40 years, and it felt right to celebrate with our supporters. It was a red-letter day,” Parker said. “We have work to do to expand the system so that it meets the needs of a changing city and public, but yesterday was focused on celebrating our wins and appreciating the people – elected officials, board members, community partners and private citizens – who support us consistently.”
MARTA Board Chair Freda Hardage, Dekalb County CEO Michael Thurmond and Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts also spoke at the stakeholder reception.
“Chairing the MARTA Board of Directors is an honor, particularly during a time of such unprecedented growth and expansion,” Hardage said. “I follow in the footsteps of such prominent Atlantans as the late Juanita Abernathy and other early champions of public transit who paved the way for the MARTA of 2019. We celebrate 40 years of service and pay homage to their legacy of dedicated service. I am proud to carry on their work.”
Following the reception, guests were treated to a train ride from Georgia State to Avondale, which mimicked, in reverse, the first ride. During the commemorative ride, guests heard the MARTA story. At Avondale, they were greeted on the platform by 70s-themed dancers, a throwback to the theme of the day, “A Ride Back in Time.”
The free public festival and concert featured music by local bands The Mar-Tans and Yacht Rock Schooners. Before the concert began, attendees had photo opportunities, ping pong and a kids’ zone, as well as a DJ, vendor tables and MARTA-themed gifts.
MARTA commissioned local artist/activist Charmaine Minniefield to create a piece to celebrate the anniversary and symbolize the authority’s relationship with the community. Minniefield converted her eight by eight-foot installation – featuring the Atlanta skyline and a MARTA train – into a paint-by-number collaborative piece that festival attendees helped to complete onsite.
Nearly 2,000 metro Atlanta residents were on hand to celebrate the anniversary.