The Birmingham Times
The on-time performance of MAX buses in the metro area is unacceptable and the transit agency needs a change of attitude to help improve service, said Frank Martin, Interim Director of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) on Tuesday.
Martin, who was appointed interim director in December, made his comments during a two-hour meeting held by the League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham (LWVGB) at the BJCTA Administration Building in downtown. His comments covered a range of topics including the role of transit in the city’s growth and the upcoming 2021 World Games and the impact of technology on ridership.
Referring to the existing transit service, Martin said, “we have problems.” The average headways (time between transit vehicle arrivals) are 40 minutes to over an hour and the on-time performance rates are in 50 percent range is “totally unacceptable,” he said.
“How can we attract riders to our system if when you walk out to the corner to catch a bus 54 percent of the time it may be on time,” Martin said. “So part of my goal in being here is to change our attitudes internally, be more customer centric, making sure that employees are aware that you have the community relying on you to get where they want to go.”
Martin, a veteran transportation executive and former general manager of the BJCTA, said transit should have a role in the growth of Birmingham which is a “marketed city now on the rebound.” He pointed to the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB’s) growth and the number of vacant buildings being transformed into apartments and lofts and even a Publix supermarket now open in downtown.
“I really see that Birmingham is beginning to take shape after a long time,” he said. “Publix is very strategic in their expansion programs and when you see a Publix in a downtown urban environment, that’s making a statement…So when I see a Publix in downtown Birmingham on 20th street, when I see UAB growing, but where is transit?” he said.
Bus Rapid Transit
He also spoke about the role of transit in the World Games which Birmingham will host in 2021. Construction will begin in early summer on an inner city public-transit system connecting 25 neighborhoods from Woodlawn on the east side to Five Points on the west side. The $44 million Bus Rapid Transit project is expected to break ground in May.
The new 10-miles system will replace the BJCTA’s MAX bus services that currently operate in these areas and the buses will operate in both dedicated lanes and in mixed traffic.
“The city of Birmingham and the FTA, (Federal Transit Administration), were able to agree on a smaller alignment, a little over 10 miles,” said Martin. “The headways will be every 15 minutes and we will have electric buses operating…that system I think could be the catalyst to really improve public transportation in this region.”
Even there, Martin said, the agency needs to make sure that “our frequencies, and by frequencies I mean the distance between buses, every 10 minute or 15 minutes…that they’re operating on time because when the BRT comes on line in 2021 we will be at that point revamping our entire network to feed into the BRT, as well as identifying other opportunities for expansion in the region,” he said.
He added that a vibrant public transportation system is critically important for economic growth. Any time a major company wants to relocate three primary factors come into play: “What is the condition of the educational system, what does your housing stock look like and transportation,” he said.