FYI Finance Committee meeting, Oct. 20, Transit funding

A Birmingham News photograph from an article describing Homewood’s and Mt. Brook’s loss of transit board representation–linked here

Finance Committee members present:  All-Walter Jones, chairman, Britt Thames, Vance Moody, Heather Reid, and Peter Wright. The Finance Committee will wait to hear more information from the transit authority before considering whether to restore funding the council slashed by half for the current budget year. It will also appoint someone to a transit citizen’s board that members didn’t know existed until a presentation tonight by Birmingham-Jefferson Transit Authority CEO Ann Dawson-August and a stern exchange that followed. The Homewood City Council, under pressure to cut expenses in this year’s budget, slashed the BJCTA’s requested $274,142 annual contribution for the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, (as it did to the much smaller special-needs service provided by ClasTran–whose budget the council cut from $15,000 to $6,000). At tonight’s Finance Committee meeting, Ms. Dawson-August offered two scenarios to drop service proportionally to the new funding, but admitted her real mission was to discourage the council from making the cuts at all. “Ridership is up,” she said. “Connectivity benefits everyone.” There are three routes through Homewood: #14–with the most ridership– #39 and #42, for service to an average of 235 Homewood residents per day.

  • Under Plan A, midday service would be eliminated on routes #39 and #42, with typical wait times between trips remaining at 1 hour.
  • Under Plan B, the number of buses on those two routes would be reduced from 3 to 1, increasing wait time to 2 hours.

To see the two-page informational handout, click here. Route #14 was more difficult to reconfigure because it crossed the Birmingham-Homewood city limits so many times, she said. To several questions, the transit chief explained that cities are charged according to a formula based generally on hourly cost to provide service, or $53/hour, and the time spent in the city. Cities are not charged merely for the time spent traveling through its limits to another city’s bus stops, however, she said. Also, the transit CEO noted that she was well aware of city boundaries and Homewood was not being unfairly charged for bus time spent at Palisades, in the city of Birmingham. And without mentioning frequency, she said BJCTA’s reduction plans would affect door-to-door pick-up for 121 disabled or elderly Homewood residents.

“You’ve got the lives of other people in your hands,” she said.

Finally, to questions about how BJCTA’s service differed from ClasTran’s, she said the difference was a matter of funding sources. ClasTran was designed in part to serve elderly and disabled people in rural areas, where BJCTA’s funding is restricted to cities. (In fact, BJCTA administers the funding for ClasTran, which in turn pays the transportation contractors Hunter Transportation and Transportation General, she said.)

Committee members then took an adversarial tone, demanding more detailed information about the formula and its application to Homewood’s charges, a detailed map showing ridership and marked with every stop, side-by-side presentation of how ridership has changed over time, and–most importantly–how Vestavia Hills’ bus bill was only about $60,000 a year.

Mr. Wright, who made the original motion to cut bus funding by half, has focused on the loss of Homewood’s seat on the transit authority’s board two years ago. (State legislation allots seats only to the sponsoring city, Birmingham, and the next three largest cities in Jefferson County, i.e., Hoover, Bessemer, and Vestavia Hills.) He made that point again tonight, with Mr. Jones saying BJCTA hasn’t kept the city informed since it lost that seat and Mr. Thames adding that the council had to take the “extreme step” of cutting funding to get any answers–all points disputed by Ms. Dawson-August.

At one point, transit board member Anderson Edwards of Vestavia Hills stood up to answer. He explained some changes to the 9-member transit board and the formation of a revamped Transit Citizens Advisory Board. Mr. Jones said the city hadn’t been informed of this matter, which Ms. Dawson-August said was on the website, in news stories and in informational mail to participating cities. At this, Mr. Jones said the council would appoint someone to the Advisory Board. The issue was carried over to the next meeting after the transit authority produces the requested information.


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