Left with the distasteful task of slashing transit for elderly and special needs riders along with regular bus service — or maybe facing the presence of a TV news camera–the Finance Committee tonight agreed to keep the transit discussion alive, and continued it to the next meeting.
Talks have been ongoing since the council voted in September to cut bus funding by half to “get the attention” of transit authorities who, councilmen said, had not been keeping them informed about the service. Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority officers have been fixtures at each meeting since then, asking the committee to reconsider, but also proposing service cuts that would absorb the reduced funding.
At each meeting, [Oct. 20 & Nov. 10] the committee has stopped short of reaffirming its decision to cut funding–perhaps heeding BJCTA’s warnings that any reduction in regular service will by law be accompanied by an equal reduction in door-to-door paratransit service.
Approximately 146 riders in Homewood use the special needs transportation. At last count, there were 448 riders on Homewood’s three routes. BJCTA estimates about 235 of those are residents.
Tonight’s Finance Committee was no different, with transit board chair Johnnye Lassiter in attendance along with executive director Ann Dawson-August and the planning manager, Henry Ikwut-Ukwa. Also attending tonight’s meeting was a bus rider and a local pastor and member of a church network advocating for regional transit.
Councilman Britt Thames then made a presentation, suggesting BJCTA consider eliminating Route 39, which travels from Birmingham to Wildwood via Oxmoor Road and Broadway. He said few riders get on or off at mid-city stops and routes 14 and 42 could be adjusted to pick up any slack. Dr. Ikwut-Ukwa, however, stepped in to explain that routes can’t be simply redrawn to suit each municipality. That kind of change would have to await a total system overhaul, he said.
He has said BJCTA would welcome working with city planning staff to adjust bus routes.
As requested at the last committee meeting, Dawson-August also provided a sheet comparing Homewood’s transit service hours, expenses and population to other municipalities. Committee members had said they didn’t believe Homewood received so much more bus service than Vestavia; they have repeatedly asked if BJCTA had mis-read city boundaries and was charging Homewood for bus time spent inside Birmingham city limits.
Homewood is currently receiving full bus service while the talks continue. If the council decides not to reconsider its decision to cut funding, the mayor will notify BJCTA in writing and hours will be cut accordingly.