MARTA has announced it will implement an “essential service” plan that reduces the number of bus routes and allows for a doubling of service on the busiest, most critical routes. The plan keeps MARTA running for healthcare personnel and other essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Beginning Monday, April 20, MARTA will run 40 bus routes and one new circulator service that provide transportation to 17 hospitals, 22 urgent care centers, 85 grocery stores and 16 job centers/industrial hubs. Buses will be added to the 34 busiest routes, including such local routes as Buford Highways Route 39.

A MARTA chart of its “essential service” bus reductions.

“This essential service plan will serve the largest number of people and with these important destinations in mind, provide as much coverage in our service area as possible,” MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker said in a press release. “This was not an easy decision. I know it will have a negative impact on many bus-dependent areas, but it is necessary to keep MARTA operating and allow space on our busiest routes for customers to practice social distancing.”

Bus ridership, while down 40%, remains steady on busy routes, which MARTA says results in unacceptable crowding. Rear door boarding, and suspension of bus fares have exacerbated the issue. Despite MARTA’s implementation of several crowding mitigation efforts such as instructing operators to display a ‘Bus Full’ sign when at capacity, a customer hotline to report a full bus and request another, and seat spacing signs to encourage social distancing, the transit agency says there are too many instances of customers ignoring the guidelines.

The essential service plan will address crowding by placing MARTA’s entire bus fleet on 41 routes. Decals near the boarding door of all buses will encourage customers NOT to board a bus that has no open seats and to wait for the next bus that will be coming along in most cases within 10 minutes. The MARTA Police Department will dispatch officers to the busiest routes to assist with overcrowding, limiting the number of passengers who board, and escorting off the bus those customers who are joyriding. MPD has also created a mobile team of officers who will respond in real time to bus operators who need assistance.

Rail ridership is down almost 80%, leaving room on trains for social distancing. Rail service will continue to operate on a Sunday schedule during weekdays with a start time of 5 a.m.

To see a chart of the Essential Service plan routes in PDF form, click here. For a map of the routes in PDF form, click here.

The Essential Service plan route list, map and schedule also can be found at For real time service alerts, follow @MARTASERVICE on Twitter or download MARTA’s On The Go app.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.