The future of public transportation at Hoover

Unlike other towns above the mountain, the town of Hoover is poised to see more people using Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority buses in 2022 than in 2021.

In 2021, 17,791 people used the bus system, while 8,914 used it in the first six months of 2022, putting the city on pace for a slight increase in ridership.

Proposed changes to the route system made last year – including increasing the frequency of trips and installing a microtransit area in the Lorna Road area and parts of John Hawkins Parkway, US 31 and Riverchase – never happened. Municipal leaders in the region above the mountain noted that these changes must include the cooperation of multiple municipalities and should be accompanied by increased funding for the transit authority. The BJCTA is dependent on local and federal funds, as the state of Alabama is one of the few states that does not provide state funding for transportation. The authority receives $2 million each year from a county sales tax, which was issued several years ago to repay the sale of bonds, as well as other sources of revenue such as municipal funding local.

Hoover City Administrator Allan Rice said the city spends between $140,000 and $145,000 each year to support the BJCTA and the two roads that run through Hoover: one that runs along US 31 and another that runs down US 280. These roads pass through several municipalities, with Hoover responsible for paying their share, Rice said.

Rice said there wasn’t much out-of-town traffic.

Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato said the city needs to rethink how public transportation is run because the area relies on an old model used by several generations.

Buses have their role, Rice said. The city considered what microtransit might look like in the suburbs and scheduled meetings with BJCTA leaders. Any means of transport must be both effective and efficient, he said. People are now used to walking to the front door of where they need to go instead of getting off at a bus stop, he said.

“It will bring about changes,” Rice said.

BJCTA Executive Director Charlotte Shaw said she plans to provide ‘Transit 101’ when she tours various municipalities as they prepare for FY2023, hoping to teach them to consider transport not only from their point of view as a city, but for the region as a whole. Failure to do so creates disconnected routes that do not serve the entire area.

“That’s not how we’re going to grow transit,” Shaw said.

The transport authority is preparing a proposal to expand the options in the area above the mountain and plans to present these options to the BJCTA board for approval before presenting the plan to the various cities concerned, said Shaw. It has also contacted contractors to inquire about providing an on-demand service, and it hopes to provide greater connectivity throughout the Birmingham area, she said.

“We have plenty of room for growth,” Shaw said.

Any changes to zones and routes in cities must be approved by each municipality. Shaw said the authority will not recommend eliminating routes, but rather providing more options.

With so many transit options, from personal vehicles to on-demand services like Uber and Lyft, Shaw said the BJCTA needs to be more competitive. While buses will always see passengers who will use them out of necessity due to lack of transportation, the authority is now competing for “discretionary” passengers, Shaw said.

“We have to get the runner to choose us,” Shaw said. “It’s about reliability and predictability.”

Expansion into the area above the mountain is a goal for Shaw, she said, eventually including expansion into areas like Trussville and growth into existing towns that receive service.

The transport company is also looking to add more add-on services and more focused service areas. For example, downtown traffic decreases after 7:00 p.m. So instead of running big buses that don’t fill up, there could be a service that would allow the few people who aren’t home yet to catch a van that seats 20 people, increasing the efficiency, says Shaw.

Public transport helps maintain “synergy” between communities, allowing people to access different communities instead of each city existing as a silo, she said.

“It’s vital because we need to be able to connect people all over Birmingham,” Shaw said.

The increase in opportunities and services offers a chance to make public transport strong again, as it was “before highways and cars”, Shaw said.

Ridership increased slightly over the summer due to high gas costs, which were slowly declining at press time. Not only that, but the World Games, held across the Birmingham area in July, showed that people will get on the bus. The red line from 20th Street to downtown Protective Stadium saw 11,000 people roll in for the closing ceremonies alone, Shaw said.

“People are ready; they are waiting for a bigger event,” Shaw said.

Benefiting the environment is another key driver for public transport, Shaw said. The transport authority is working to increasingly switch to electric buses, which reduces emissions.

“Our environment is really important,” Shaw said. “And we are our greatest enemies.”

Shaw lived in Atlanta for 38 years and asked if Birmingham wanted to become like the city, notorious for its traffic jams, in the next five years.

“We have to stay ahead of the game,” Shaw said.

But if residents are to rely on public transit and ease traffic congestion, service must be convenient and reliable, Shaw said. Expansion is not possible until the options become practical, such as going down faster from 280 US.

More federal money is now available due to the recently passed infrastructure bill.

“For the next three years, the money will come quickly,” Shaw said. “We put on our catcher’s glove.”

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