By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
The Birmingham On-Demand ride-share service has become a favorite for many riders, as have many of its employees, such as driver Samuel Slaughter.
Slaughter, one of the program’s 20 drivers, is known to many as “The Face of Birmingham On-Demand.”
“That’s just from driving and speaking with people every day,” he said. “I almost always know who I’m picking up based on what time frame they book their rides.”
Birmingham On-Demand is a transit ride-share service partnership with Via, a mobility solutions company that provides on-demand and pre-scheduled transportation for residents in cities around the world.
The microtransit (demand-responsive transportation) program, which uses marked Mercedes Metris vans and also provides accessible vehicles for riders with disabilities, operates Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; riders can book a shared ride for a flat-rate fee of $1.50.
Slaughter, 38, who is also an Uber and Lyft driver, has been with Birmingham On-Demand since the service launched in December 2019.
“I’m accustomed to that type of [microtransit] business, so it worked out perfectly for me,” he said. “I went in blindly though because I didn’t know how great the service was, but I’m very glad that I did.”
Slaughter said he has an opportunity to sit back and “take in the changes that [Birmingham On-Demand, provided by Via], has brought to the city. … I’ve watched people’s lives change just by having access to be able to go to work or just get out of the house. Without a car, people can’t get anywhere, and I know how it feels to not be mobile when you want to be. [This service] gives people the ability to be mobile again.”
Slaughter drives every day except Sunday, when the service is not operating, and typically during the afternoon and evening hours. He averages about 10 to 15 rides a day.
The service zone covers a 6.7-square-mile section of the city, which includes the downtown Intermodal Facility, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), City Hall, the CrossPlex, Children’s of Alabama, the Jefferson County Courthouse, and other city and county offices downtown Birmingham. Neighborhoods served by the program include Smithfield, Graymont, College Hills, Bush Hills, Rising West Princeton, East Thomas, Fairview, and portions of Southside.
Slaughter grew up mostly in the Ensley and Fairfield neighborhoods. Before joining Birmingham On-Demand, he worked as the house manager at Glenwood Inc., a housing camp for autistic children. As a driver, he gets to do what he loves and provide a service for the community.
“I told one of the upper management people at Via that if I had known I was going to work in transportation, I would’ve gone to college for transportation and not for business,” said Slaughter, who attended the now closed Brown Mackie College in Homewood and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Slaughter started his first company right out of college in 2015, an independent contracting business called Let Us Do It, which provides services in a broad range of areas, including housing projects and lawn care.
“I still get to work in my field as an independent contractor through Via,” he said. “A lot of the [Birmingham On-Demand] job is based around customer service and doing what I can to make sure people have a good, safe, enjoyable ride.”
Slaughter also enjoys connecting with people from all different walks of life, including one rider who used Birmingham On-Demand to get out of her home—for the first time in years.
“There is a lady who lives near Birmingham Southern College, and her first time riding with me she said she hadn’t been out of the house on her own in four or five years and [the service] gave her back her independence. She goes to the store and the hospital, and I even got to know most of her family because they ride, as well,” said Slaughter, who described Birmingham On-Demand as reliable, inexpensive, and “built for the people.”
“We provide a luxury service at a thrifty price, which automatically makes the customer want to take a ride because of the affordability and dependability.”
The Birmingham On-Demand six-month pilot program was scheduled to end in July, but it was extended to October after the city moved its fiscal year from July 1 to October 1 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, Mayor Randall Woodfin has put $740,000 funding into the city’s proposed 2020–2021 budget to continue the Birmingham On-Demand program.
From a driver’s perspective, Slaughter believes the service is much needed.
“A lot more people have access to jobs, grocery stores, which helps to boost the economy because people are able to get there easier,” he said. “A lot of people’s lives … have changed positively because of [Birmingham On-Demand, provided in partnership with] Via.”
To book a ride with Birmingham On-Demand, download the Via app from the Apple App or Google Play store or call 205-236-0768. For more information about Birmingham On-Demand, visit www.birminghamal.gov/via.