New plan by MARTA would stiffen penalties for nuisance riders

by: Tony Thomas Updated:

Executives of the transit system say the nuisance crimes are one reason people avoid riding the trains and buses and they want to improve the perception.
ATLANTA —

MARTA is launching a crackdown on beggars, eaters and loud music lovers.

Executives of the transit system say the nuisance crimes are one reason people avoid riding the trains and buses and they want to improve the perception.

Passenger after passenger on the MARTA train system can tell you stories about being made to feel downright uncomfortable as they rode along the tracks.

Karen Owens said for her, it's a panhandler she sees regularly as she rides the train from the Lindbergh Station.

"It makes me tense, it does, because I don't know if he's really crazy or he's just begging," said Owens.

That's exactly the stuff MARTA is promising to crack down on in the proposed "Ride with Respect" campaign.

"We do have a perception issue," MARTA General Manager Keith Parker told Channel 2's Tony Thomas.

Parker said crime on the MARTA system is actually low, but residents believe otherwise.

The latest MARTA supplied statistics are from May. They said there were nine robbery-related crimes reported, one aggravated assault and 22 larceny related crime. Larcenies can include thefts, thefts from automobiles, burglaries and arsons.

Those numbers compare to riders hopping on trains or buses 10.7 million times in the same month.

"The only way you start to fight the perception is to let people know you are serious," Parker said.

Parker warned riders will see increased warnings and citations not only for panhandling, but nuisance crimes as well.

"People will literally have their earphones in but still play it so loud that their neighbor or others can hear it. The eating, the occasional horseplay," are examples of what riders may be fined for Parker said.

Under the plan to be voted on by the MARTA board on Monday, violators could ultimately be banned from the system for up to a year.

Parker said he hopes disrespectful riders will get the message and behave.

If they do, he said they likely won't come to the attention of officers and executives and could still ride the system.

If the program works, passenger Karen Owens said she'd make an effort to ride more.

"I would take it more if I felt safe and comfortable," Owens said.