The Untrained Rider
I've spent the week in Atlanta, where I've acquainted myself with MARTA, the city's transit system. I've found MARTA's trains to be clean, spacious, reliable ...
My problem wasn't finding my way around. Sure, nothing beats the online trip planner in my hometown of Washington, D.C., where Metro lets you put in a starting address and ending address and tells you the best way to get there. MARTA's interactive map isn't bad though, and, with the help of Mapquest, I could figure out which station I needed.
No, my problem was this: How the heck do I pay so I can get on board?
When I walked into North Avenue Station for the first time, I saw lots of information about "Breeze cards." I even saw some machines that looked like they would give me a Breeze card.
But did I want a Breeze card? Were they permanent passes like D.C.'s SmarTrip cards, which only a resident or frequent visitor would want, or more like regular fare cards? And, if I did want a Breeze card, how much did I need to pay? Is it a flat rate or does it depend on how far I travel? And why the heck are they called "Breeze cards"?!?!?!?
Luckily, from watching hundreds of D.C. tourists in this situation, I knew exactly what to do. I puttered toward the Breeze machines, then puttered back toward the electronic turnstiles, all the while doing my best to look as confused and helpless as possible (which wasn't difficult).
Sure enough, after about three putters a MARTA employee came to the rescue, helping me buy a $4 roundtrip Breeze ticket (different from a Breeze card, which are Atlanta's equivalent of SmarTrip). In retrospect, I could have saved money by buying a three-day pass, but I'm just happy I made it on a train.
I should have checked MARTA's fare information page before going to the station. Still, I think transit agencies could do more to make their systems easy for visitors. How about some giant signs with frequently asked questions for first-time users?
With more time to reflect, I'm guessing Breeze cards got their name because using them is supposed to be a breeze. I do still have one question though: What am supposed to do with the Sacagawea dollars the Breeze machines keep giving me?