Crime on MARTA is rampant. You’re almost guaranteed to be a victim of theft or assault while riding any train or any bus anywhere in metro Atlanta. This is clear just from looking at a MARTA rail station or older bus. The boring, barren, dirty, and poorly lit stations readily evoke this idea and those adopting such an idea can hardly be blamed.
We already looked at crime statistics for area college campuses and found somewhat surprising results, mainly that Tech and State reported far fewer crimes than Emory and UGA in key areas. Basing conclusions about people or colleges or modes of transportation on inaccurate information doesn’t do anyone any good. In the case of transportation, those forming opinions about alternative modes based on prejudice miss out on the benefits provided by such modes. Unfortunately, so too does everyone else. The arguably false belief that MARTA is abundant with crime prevents the system from gaining new funding, expanding, and ultimately helping this region upgrade its archaic, single-mode transportation system.
Let’s start with the basic data. The first excel chart in the graphic located below this paragraph is the number of crimes at each MARTA rail station during fiscal year 2013. They range from a high of 35 at College Park to a low of 2 at Decatur, Dome/CNN Center, and Buckhead. This data is from the MARTA Police Department and includes the crimes of homicide, robbery, aggravated assault, larceny, auto theft, arson, rape, and burglary. The second excel chart in the graphic below represents the total crimes reported in fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2013 across the system. So this data includes crimes for rail, bus, parking lots, mobile bus, and facilities. The graph shows 416 total crimes in FY2011 (bus = 64, rail = 230) and 539 total crimes in FY2013 (bus = 106, rail = 275). Note: while no rapes were reported in 2011 and 2013, two rapes were reported in 2012.
Obviously this data by itself doesn’t mean too much. MARTA PD does provide a per capita estimate, in the form of percentage of crimes per 1 million riders (2.96% in 2011, 4.15% in 2013). Converted to crimes per 1,000 riders, which is commonly used, this is simply 29.6 crimes per 1,000 riders in 2011 and 41.5 crimes per 1,000 riders in 2013.
The data is probably more helpful when compared to transit crime in other cities, crime in and around the stations’ neighborhoods, and crime across the city. The chart at the left shows City of Atlanta crime for the years 2011 and 2013 (as reported by City of Atlanta Police Department (APD)). While this chart includes the same categories of crimes as the MARTA PD chart, it does refer to calendar years 2011 and 2013 and not fiscal years 2011 and 2013. This clearly throws a wrench in the actual direct comparison of the two numbers, but since crime is generally the same year over year and both APD and MARTA PD have data for 12 month intervals that roughly coincide, some comparison can be made.
On a citywide per capita basis, you can expect to be the victim of a crime about half as often while riding MARTA as just being present in the City of Atlanta. Based on APD data and US Census Bureau data the City of Atlanta had 81.715 crimes per 1,000 people in 2011 and 73.787 crimes per 1,000 people in 2013. This compares to the previously mentioned MARTA crime rates of 29.6 and 41.5 for 2011 and 2013, respectively. It is not apparent as to whether the APD crime data includes crimes occurring in MARTA PD jurisdictions, however it shouldn’t be too significant one way or the other since general APD crime dramatically dwarfs MARTA PD crime.
A citywide comparison provides a great snapshot, but a localized approach may be even better. How do the crime rates at MARTA rail stations compare to the number of passengers at each station? Fortunately MARTA provides daily ridership numbers for each station, along with beneficial data concerning land uses and demographics in surrounding neighborhoods. The chart at left shows crimes at each station per the number of daily entries at each station. The daily ridership numbers provided by MARTA have been multiplied by 365 to reflect yearly ridership since the crimes reported data is on a yearly basis. For instance, the Midtown station has 2,025,385 daily entries and 8 crimes were reported at the station in FY2013. Dividing the two numbers creates a value of 253,173 station entries crime reported. So the lower the value the higher the crime rate is per entry. Based on this calculation the Lakewood station has the highest crime rate at 37,326 entries for every crime and the Decatur station has the lowest crime rate at 815,045.00 entries for every crime.
Another interesting value to throw in is median household income in the areas surrounding the stations. The chart at the left shows the same crimes per entry data as the chart above and also includes the median household income for the 1/2 mile area surrounding each station. The Airport station is not included because no households exist within 1/2 mile according to the MARTA data. It should be noted that income data for those stations in and around Georgia State include income reported by students. Generally preconceived notions hold true: those areas with lower incomes have higher crime rates per entry. Decatur is an interesting station because it has a relatively low median household income ($40,783), but has the fewest crimes per entry. Medical Center is also a notable exception as it has the highest reported median household income ($169,721), but one of the higher crime rates per entry (123,881). It’s important to remember that we are still talking about very few crimes. Even though Medical Center has a relatively high crime rate per number of entries, the number of crimes reported for the entire 2013 fiscal year was just five.
We could further look at land use patterns, density, and so many other things in analyzing crime and MARTA. The point, though, is to make people aware of the basic data. Crime on MARTA is relatively low. Despite this information, it’s hard to blame people for avoiding train stations when the stations are poorly lit, seem devoid of any security, and just generally feel depressing. Unfortunately it’s a catch-22 in that if we don’t start riding it more, it won’t get more funding to make the necessary aesthetic upgrades to make the system more welcoming for more riders. We can only hope that as more metro counties and jurisdictions realize the benefit of MARTA so too will the Georgia legislature. MARTA has to compete against all the other transit systems in the county in terms of aesthetics and service when it gets zero financial help from the state. As we know MARTA is the only transit system in the country to get no state funding. Imagine if the roadways got no state funding. Fortunately the tide seems to be turning and hopefully state lawmakers will realize the importance of another mode of transportation and join the rest of the country in funding mass transportation.