Getting up to speed on public transit in Atlanta

Rapid Transit

Rapid transit (also called heavy rail) is one of two types of train-based public transportation. The other one is light rail, which we will get to a bit later. Rapid transit systems are trains that have their own dedicated space, so they don’t interact with other vehicles, like cars or buses. Examples include the Subway system in New York City or the Metro in Washington D.C. Rapid transit can be more efficient for riders, since having their own space means that they can go faster without interruption and can carry more people. The downside of rapid transit is that these trains take a long time to stop in emergencies and, of course, need a lot more space to be built.


In addition to a rapid transit system, many cities, including Atlanta, have a system of buses that allow riders to get to and from stops where the rapid transit system doesn’t reach. Buses can be safer than rapid transit, because they are easier to stop and slower overall. They also typically have more stops, and riders can tell the driver exactly where they want to stop, improving efficiency by removing unnecessary stops. However, buses are slower than rapid transit trains, can get stuck in traffic, and can carry fewer people.

Light rail

Light rail is another type of train-based transportation. Unlike rapid transit, light rails share space with other types of traffic, like cars and buses. This means that light rail is typically slower than rapid transit, but it can stop more quickly in an emergency and is easier for a city to build, since it can be integrated with existing streets and pathways. Atlanta’s main use of light rail is the Atlanta Streetcar, a 2.7 mile loop that connects Centennial Olympic Park to the King Historic District in Downtown Atlanta.

The future of public transit in Atlanta

There are a lot of options for new public transit in Atlanta, and what happens with these options will really depend on who we elect as the new Mayor and City Council.



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