FYI Finance Committee meeting, Nov. 10, 2014, transit funding continued

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The Broadway and Carr stop.

Carried over pending further discussion: Transit executives tonight brought information about bus routes, budgets, ridership and service hours requested by the Finance Committee, which in September led the council to slash the city’s transit funding — and therefore bus service– by 50%. This was the second appearance by Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority director Ann Dawson-August to answer the committee’s questions in hopes of having funding reconsidered, if not totally reinstated. To read about last month’s meeting, click here.

Service reductions, if needed, will probably go into effect in January following a series of public hearings in Homewood and other locations convenient to affected riders, Ms. Dawson-August said after the meeting. Right now, the authority has postponed hiring three bus drivers to maintain service during the discussions.

Ms. Dawson-August had already offered the committee two scenarios to address the funding reduction–either cutting mid-day service on two of three city bus routes, or reducing the number of buses from 3 to 1. Tonight she mentioned only cutting midday service, which would affect fewer regular riders, but would impact the approximately 146 elderly and disabled customers who use the door-to-door para-transit rides, mainly for doctors appointments.

She explained that para-transit must operate literally parallel with regular bus service under federal law, which prohibits the city from eliminating one or the other — as one committee member suggested–in order to save money.

By the numbers: BJCTA buses spend 1,375.01 service hours per year inside city limits for which Homewood this year has been levied $263,874, using a uniform $53.68/hour rate. BJCTA has figured a ridership in Homewood of 448, of which about half are probably Homewood residents.

BJCTA’s total operating expenses are $29 million. About half those expenses are paid through fares, advertising, federal grants, county property tax and beer tax. It is the remaining $15.6 million in unfunded costs that are shared by the county’s 10 participating cities, according to BJCTA figures. Birmingham, as the sponsoring city, pays $14 million, or 90% of the service hours, followed by Bessemer (3.48%), Fairfield (2.03%) and Homewood (1.69%). It was this share–or $263,874 for the current year–that the council cut in half in September.

Falling further down on this list are Mountain Brook, Vestavia and Hoover at sixth, seventh and eighth respectively. Two years ago Homewood and Mountain Brook both lost their board seats under a new and stricter re-reading of the state law governing board composition, which is based on population. Bessemer kept its seat and Hoover and Vestavia were granted new seats based on their size at the 2010 U.S. Census.

Mr. Jones and especially Mr. Wright have pointed to the “loss of representation” as a major sticking point in funding transit in Homewood. However, Ms. Dawson-August tonight pointed out that BJCTA has no decision-making power over board membership under the law, adding that Homewood should lobby its Jefferson County delegation if it seeks a change in the law. Cities have ample input to transit decisions, as the current budget discussions demonstrate, she said.

Finally, committee members scrutinized a data sheet showing actual ridership on a typical weekday in September along all three routes. Mr. Thames asked if unused stops could be eliminated to save money. Ms. Dawson-August said yes, but the savings would be minuscule for shaving off a few minutes on each route.

At this point, BJCTA planning and development manager Henry Ikwut-Ukwa said he would be happy to work with the city staff to find routes that work best to maintain connectivity for residents and incoming shoppers and visitors to Homewood.

“When you cut services to the bare minimum, you have only those with no choice left using the service,” he said.

BJCTA is still putting together a requested comparison of Homewood’s detailed ridership data with those of Vestavia and Mountain Brook. The matter was therefore carried over to the next Finance Committee meeting, when that information will be presented.

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