Labor shortages continue to batter many industries as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, and in Atlanta, public transportation is no exception.

MARTA reports that its system of bus services has been hit particularly hard, and that patrons have suffered. The agency budgets for 1,366 full-time bus operators but currently has a deficit of 14 percent—or 1,179 on staff.

Drivers have left due to COVID-19 health concerns or been fired for not complying with MARTA’s vaccination policy, which requires that all employees either submit a vaccination card or weekly test results, according to the transit agency. The high rates of absenteeism have resulted in cancelled bus routes, or schedule changes at the last minute, that have dinged MARTA’s service reliability.

In an effort to get back on track while grappling with driver hiring and retention, MARTA is implementing temporary service changes beginning December 18 as a stop-gap solution.

That means reducing almost all routes to less-frequent “Saturday schedules.” And for thousands of Atlantans, it means getting around the city will take longer or be less convenient.  

MARTA officials said this week none of the current 113 bus routes will be stopped entirely—but that the majority, 96 routes, will switch to Saturday schedules. Eleven of the system’s most patronized routes will remain on regular schedules, as will six that don’t run on Saturdays.    

Collie Greenwood, MARTA deputy general manager of operations, stressed in the announcement that the adjustments are temporary and designed to “reduce uncertainty about when your bus is coming, or if it’s coming at all.”

Route changes will be updated on MARTA’s website and the MARTA On the Go app to reflect the modifications that begin in five weeks. The agency says normal bus operations will resume as soon as possible.

No changes to MARTA’s rail service are expected.

In the meantime, MARTA officials say bus operators are being recruited with higher pay versus other transportation companies, and “through every available channel” including monthly job fairs, where candidates are being processed on site.

MARTA is requiring that all new hires be vaccinated.

Recent MARTA-related news, discussion (Urbanize Atlanta)