Yesterday it was announced that the MARTA Braves Shuttle was on the chopping block for next year's MARTA budget. The rough economy and dwindling tax revenues which fund MARTA are strangling the Authority's budget, and tough cuts are down the road.
I have investigated this issue to learn more about what we might be able to do to save the MARTA Braves Shuttle, and what some possible consequences are if the shuttle is cut. Let's begin with some basics of the situation that you should know.
There was a law passed in the 1980's that precludes MARTA, or any publicly funded transit company, from operation charter buses. MARTA used to do this years ago and make good money off of it, but they no longer can. This restriction means that they can't charge a surcharge for the Braves shuttle. They are essentially providing it for free via the rail to bus transfer you get when you leave the five point rail station. This law also prohibits the Braves from sponsoring the shuttle service.
Along those same lines, in a perverse way, the Braves are probably happy to see the shuttle go away, as they will make more off of people parking in the lots that they run. This could also be a prelude to higher parking costs at the Braves stadium as there would be less competition for getting fans to the park. The Braves will almost certainly not go to bat to save the shuttle service.
All of this doesn't mean that the cancellation of the shuttle is a done deal. MARTA is required to hold public hearings where citizens can voice their opinion on the issue. These hearings are held by the MARTA Board of Directors, and MARTA board members approve all parts of the final budget. If you wish to voice your opinion about this on either side of the issue, you may contact the MARTA board members in your area, or attend a public meeting.
There are several changes that could be made to reduce the cost of the shuttle. They could change the departure point for the shuttle so that it once again leaves from Five Points MARTA Station and not from Underground Atlanta. The route from Underground is longer and requires more time to reach the stadium, therefore MARTA adds more buses to make up that time. If they moved the departure point back to five points and minimized the distance the shuttle takes round trip, they could reduce the overall number of buses and therefore the overall cost.
While reducing the number of buses may cause greater delays in getting to and from the park, if it's either that or no shuttle, I'm sure there are many loyal shuttle riders who wouldn't mind a bit more of an occasional wait. Cutting a service like this also alienates many people who are already hesitant to take MARTA, and MARTA may lose a large number of future riders whose initial experience with the system comes through attending Braves games on their trains and buses.
If the shuttle does go away, the Braves could enlist a private company to operate a charter shuttle service before and after games, but it is unlikely that the Braves will foot the bill for that. A private company could opt to run a service on their own, but they would of course charge a fee for that trip which would be added on top of the fare you pay to ride MARTA.
As someone who travels to a lot of the other stadiums around the country, I can appreciate a team that has multiple ways to get to and from a ballgame, and the ability to use public transit is a big plus. Yes, one can walk from a MARTA station to Turner Field, but there are plenty of people who won't choose that option due to the distance.
Right now the best move is for the fans that rely on the MARTA Braves shuttle to be heard by both the Braves and especially the MARTA Board of Directors. Even fans who drive to games should be concerned that parking prices will go even higher if the shuttle goes away. If there is no mass transit connectivity to our baseball stadium, then it might as well be located in some remote suburb. If the shuttle service is cut off, Turner Field will be an unreachable island in a dying urban core. Severing this connection will lead to more separation between the team and the city.