By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
On Tuesday, the Birmingham City Council unanimously voted to invest $250,000 to launch a new on-demand shared ride service that will provide on-demand public transportation for residents.
Along with an investment up to $502,000 from the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, the city will enter an agreement with Via, the leader in on-demand public mobility, to develop and operate the shared ride service as part of a six-month micro transit pilot.
The 6.7-mile service area for the pilot includes parts of West Birmingham in neighborhoods such as Fairview, Fountain Heights, Druid Hills, Smithfield, Bush Hills, Central City, College Hills and others to downtown Birmingham.
Via will offer services for residents in the city by booking a shared ride at a flat rate fee of $1.50. The program is scheduled to start in December and will serve riders Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Via will operate marked Mercedes Metris vans and will provide accessible vehicles for riders with disabilities.
Customers will be able to book a seat in a premium shared vehicle through the Via app or by dial-in phone number. Once a ride is booked, Via’s technology matches multiple passengers headed in the same direction into a single vehicle that is routed in real-time.
“Many of us hear the stories of people either being late to work or getting fired because they can’t get to work on time, not getting to their doctor’s appointments on time or a child can’t make it to school on time because a bus broke down . . .” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “We are proud to add another tool to our toolbox as well as joining more than 80 cities and partners who have worked with Via to provide innovation to public transportation.”
Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via, said Via’s passenger matching and vehicle routing algorithm is “the solution to improving access in transportation deserts, seamlessly integrating into the existing public transit infrastructure to connect residents to work, education, healthcare, and opportunities in their communities.”
Councilor John Hilliard, who has advocated for a micro transit system before, applauded the mayor and the council’s decision to bring this to the city.
“I want to thank you for being a visionary and actually looking out for the future and helping with transportation . . . I can’t wait until the pilot program is a success…it’s fascinating to see us start to really head where other cities already are,” Hilliard said.
Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, chair of the council’s transportation committee, said the six-month pilot project will allow city officials to better understand whether the service benefit citizens in the long-term. “This is one of a number of things we are looking at in order to make it easier for people to move around in the city of Birmingham,” he said.
Approximately 13 percent of the city’s population does not own a vehicle, so they are reliant on other forms of transportation, said O’Quinn. “We’re focused on bringing forward additional options in order to fill that need. So as Mayor Woodfin said, we think this is a problem that you need a number of tools to try and address and this is one of the tools we’re looking at.”
In other business, the council unanimously approved a $2.6 million, three-year contract with ShotSpotter to continue that technology around the city.
Woodfin said the number of shots fired incidents detected by ShotSpotter through September is about 17 percent less than the same period in 2018.
“Every crime stats against persons and all crime stats against property are down which includes our homicide as of September 24, 2019 compared to where it was at this same time last year,” he said. “Year-to-date as of this same day last year, it was 1,086 shots detected by ShotSpotter and today, in 2019, it’s 905 so ShotSpotter has not only provided value in our detection but overall in the year since the chief has been here, all crimes against persons and all crimes against property are down.”
Councilor Steven Hoyt, who has been vocal about crime in the past, said there should be more awareness about the technology.
“I’m hoping that we can see better results in terms of some of the crime that’s taking place and I think the more people know about it, there needs to be a campaign to let people know we have this technology and if you do something contrary to the law then this is how we’re going to deal with you,” said Hoyt.