Atlanta is a car-dependent city and boasts some of the worst traffic in the country, but it's also full of charming, walkable neighborhoods. Fortunately, while it's not comprehensive, the city's MARTA rail and bus system—which serves 1.7 million residents annually and keeps 185,000 cars off the road daily—provides a great way to get between the airport and the city as well as to local area attractions.
Navigating MARTA can be intimidating for first-timers. However, it's a cheaper and sometimes quicker alternative to sitting in traffic. Here's what you need to know about fares, hours of operation, and more before you take MARTA on your trip to ATL this year.
How to Ride the MARTA
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) includes a train and a bus system as well as a streetcar that loops downtown. With four color-coded lines (gold and red are north/south while green and blue are east/west) that all intersect in downtown at Five Points Station, the train is the most widely used option and easiest and fastest to navigate.
Fares: The MARTA fare is $2.50 each way, which includes four free transfers (in the same direction, not a round trip) in a three-hour period. Children under 46 inches ride for free (limit two children per paying adult), while seniors and those receiving Medicare or with disabilities ride for just $1.
Different types of passes: If you'll be making multiple trips, consider purchasing a single ($9) or multi-day train pass ($14 for two days and up to $90 for 30) to save money on fares.
How to pay: While you can purchase a Breeze Card ($2 flat fee plus fare) online, it takes about a week to receive via mail, so buying one in person is the best option for visitors. Cards can be purchased with cash or a credit card at each station, all of which have automated ticketing kiosks and some of which have staffed counters. Load your card with the proper fare and use it immediately upon purchase.
Hours of operation: Trains run from 4:45 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays and from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekends and holidays. Trains run every 10 minutes during peak commuter hours ( 6-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m., Monday-Friday), every 12 minutes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., every 12-15 minutes between 7-8:30 p.m. and every 20 minutes after 8:30 p.m.
Travel routes/subway lines: MARTA only has four lines. The red line runs south to north from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to North Springs, the gold line south to northeast from the airport to Doraville and the blue and green lines run east to west, with the blue line starting at Hamilton E. Holmes and green at Bankhead and both ending at Indian Springs east of Decatur.
Transfer information/tips: You can transfer from all lines at the Five Points Station in downtown. Note that while the gold and red lines both run north to south, they split at Lindbergh Station in south Buckhead. If you get on the wrong train, just get off at Lindbergh and wait for the next one.
Accessibility concerns: All rail stations have both elevators and escalators, and regular route buses feature low-floors with ramps for easy boarding for riders who use Mobility Aids or have difficulty getting up and down bus steps. MARTA also offers a mobility service that provides ADA Complementary Paratransit service to customers who are unable to use the regular train and bus services.
You can use the trip planner on the MARTA website to plan your route and find out real-time departure/arrival information.
Other Transit Options
Park and Ride
Most MARTA stations offer parking lots, where you can leave your car while you ride. Some locations are covered decks while others are open lots. All stations with parking offer free parking for the first 24 hours. After that, long-term parking costs between $5 and $8. Not all parking decks are open 24 hours, so check the specific lot on the website before you park there.
MARTA also runs hundreds of buses on over 100 routes throughout the city. The fare is the same as a train ride. Check the MARTA website to plan your trip or transfer via bus.
You can connect to the streetcar, which runs on a loop from downtown to the King Historic District, at Peachtree Center Station, or just hop on at any of the stops. Trains run approximately every 15 minutes, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday, 8:15 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday and 8:15 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday.
Taxis and Ride-sharing Apps
Taxis operate regularly at the airport, but otherwise, it's best to use a ride-sharing app like Uber or Lyft if you need to take a car from point to point.
If you don't mind sitting in traffic and dealing with Atlanta drivers, renting a car is a good option, especially if you're traveling to areas without train transit, like Cobb County, or planning a day trip to places like Athens or the North Georgia mountains. Street parking and/or parking decks are easily accessible in most neighborhoods, though downtown and Midtown lots can be a bit pricey.
Tips for Getting Around Atlanta
Atlanta is a car-centric city with a metropolitan population of nearly 6 million people and a transit system that hasn't kept pace with growth. Follow these tips for a smoother, easier trip while in town.
- Rush Hour is extended. A lot of residents work off hours or travel long distances to work, so rush hours lasts longer here than in other cities. Roads are most congested between 7 and 10 a.m. and 3:30 to 7 p.m., but there's also a lunchtime rush, especially on Fridays. Traffic is lighter during school holidays.
- The Connector is almost always congested. The "Connector" (where I-75 and I-85 merge through Midtown and downtown) is almost always backed up during the day, even in nonrush hour times. Be patient and plan extra time if it's on your route.
- MARTA is a great way to navigate the airport, downtown and Midtown. The MARTA train is a great option from the airport and travels directly into popular tourist areas like downtown and Midtown. If you're staying in those areas or Buckhead, it's best to avoid renting a car and take the train and walk to attractions, most of which are within a mile or less of the stations.
- Rain slows everything down. Rain generally means more accidents and longer commute times, so plan your trip accordingly.
When in doubt, double check transit and GPS apps for traffic delays or hail a ride-share to avoid driving or navigating transportation altogether.