By Jada Haynes
It’s common knowledge around campus not to go to MARTA stations at night. However, for those who commute, visit family, or feel like taking a day trip, the many stations provide a simple solution. In an attempt to help the patrons feel safer, the MARTA Police Department (MPD) has plenty new safety initiatives at work.
Caitlin Burkhart, a student at Georgia State University, is looking forward to the improvements.
“Having had a negative experience on MARTA involving an invasive stranger who made me fear for my safety, I am excited to hear about the new safety initiatives,” she said. “In an otherwise empty MARTA train terminal at around 10:30 p.m., I had a young foreign man attempt to engage in conversation with me. I denied his offer[s to drink or smoke with him] and then he asked me for my phone number, which I also said no to,” Burkhart elaborated. When more people arrived at the terminal, she stuck with them and stayed on populated streets until she was home.
According to MARTA’s official crime statistics, in 2014 there were 64 counts of aggravated assault, 49 counts of robbery, and 318 instances of larceny.
The Blow the Whistle campaign is designed to combat this. It is composed of the MARTA See & Say app (available to Android and iPhone users), MPD Emergency SMS # (404) 334-5355, the MPD’s regular number (404) 848-4911, police escorts to walk you to your destination (within regular walking distance, that is), officers to stand with you if you are uncomfortable waiting at a station alone, handing out whistles and informational pamphlets, courtesy phones, rides home within a five-mile radius from the stations, and free self-defense classes.
According to Alisa Jackson, MARTA’s Manager of Communications, “The next [self-defense classes] will be scheduled between now and…Thanksgiving.” She went on to say that there isn’t a “time frame” for when customers can call a police escort, opening up the service to anyone whenever they fear for their safety.
All the services listed are available to men, too. Clay, a male Georgia State University student, said “I don’t see why they shouldn’t be. Men are susceptible to violence too, even if they may not be attacked as frequently.”
Response time is another factor to police escorts. Jackson said it’s important to keep in mind that it may take a few minutes for an officer to get from one station to another. “[T]his is something that Chief Dunham has said – we want to be as on-call and as readily-available as possible…We certainly don’t want to strand anyone, but at the same time, [we’re] having to work within the resources we have available.”
However, people with disabilities may have to wait a little longer for their conditions to change. Jessica Blinkhorn, a longtime activist for handicap accessibility, publicly voiced her problems with MARTA Mobility. Mobility is a service that transports customers with complications getting onto, riding, or getting out of MARTA’s typical buses or rail services, states MARTA’s official website. Mainly, Blinkhorn’s been having trouble with the buses the system sends out and MARTA not accepting her requests to be put on the newer models.
“[MARTA Mobility] 4000 [buses] have a straight axle which causes the bus to bounce around. [With] the wheelchair that I have, the bounce is too much for my body…I get flung around. Same goes for anyone who doesn’t have muscle control,” says Blinkhorn.
Jackson said that MARTA’s police cars aren’t equipped with the same safety measures as a Mobility van, but they’re currently discussing ways to increase accessibility for their handicapped patrons. Soon, their Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be setting up “education classes” regarding the customers using Mobility.
Blinkhorn’s next event will be November 13th in Buckhead at Red Martini. She will be hosting a fundraiser for ROLL HARD 2015, her last protest, to turn it into a non-profit organization and making a website for it.
Anyone wishing to follow MARTA’s Blow the Whistle campaign on Facebook and Twitter can do so using the tags #BlowtheWhistle, #MARTACares and #EnoughisEnough.
This article was originally written for The Signal.