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Birmingham riders discover transit service that offers independence 

Jeremy McNair, a frequent rider, said Birmingham On-Demand has been a great experience and has changed his life for the better. (Sydney Melson, The Birmingham Times)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times 

For Jeremy McNair, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, Birmingham On-Demand is more than just a method of transportation—it’s a means of freedom.

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.

“With some companies, you have to book rides maybe days in advance,” McNair said. “[Birmingham On-Demand] is right at your fingertips and just minutes away, so why not choose that?” It’s been a great experience [and] has changed my life for the better.”

Whenever he needs to be somewhere, McNair books a ride through the Via app or calls their number.

“It’s a major plus to be able to log in to the app and request a ride anytime,” he said. “I’ve had moments when I had to be somewhere in a five- to 10-minute time frame and put my location in the app, and the driver was a minute away from my location.”

The city of Birmingham launched the microtransit, or demand-responsive transportation, service pilot program in December 2019, and it has become very popular with riders like McNair.

Birmingham On-Demand, 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.

McNair uses the service every day, averaging about two to three rides a day.

“I primarily use it for work, but I’ve also used it to go to other places throughout the downtown area,” he said. “I just recently used it a few days ago to go to a barbershop on Fourth Avenue North, which I can do quite often now that I know [Birmingham On-Demand runs] on Saturdays.”

McNair, 34, who lives on the north side of downtown Birmingham said he heard about Birmingham On-Demand through a friend.

“I’m a volunteer with [Children’s of Alabama], and a friend of mine who also works there and is a wheelchair user told me she used it quite often,” he said. “After a couple of weeks, I decided to give it a try myself because I was having difficulty getting back and forth to work at the time. I tried it out and found that it was very beneficial to me because I’m able to get to work on time.”

Amy Thornton, 40, who uses a wheelchair due to a stroke she had seven years ago, is also pleased with the service.

“Some transit organizations only take you to the doctor—there wasn’t any going to the store, going to the mall, going to restaurants, or any of those things—and I needed to find a new service that did a little bit more than that,” she said. “I was introduced to [Birmingham On-Demand by a friend in December, when the pilot launched]. Now I’m able to predict when and how I want to go, and I don’t have to wait for somebody to come to my house or ask, ‘Can you take me?’ [Birmingham On-Demand] has been very helpful.”

Thornton, who lives in Elyton Village in West Birmingham, said it’s been difficult to book a ride in advance with other services—but not with the Birmingham On-Demand services provided in partnership with Via.

“It was hard because I couldn’t predict what my body would do on a given day or how I would feel. It would be like, ‘OK, body, we’re gonna have a sore throat today or a fever today.’ So, the whole on-demand part has really sold me,” she said.

The Birmingham On-Demand pilot service officially launched on December 3, 2019. 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. The service allows residents to reach more than 47 medical facilities; 13 schools, universities and vocational training centers; three grocery stores; eight pharmacies; 15 banks and credit unions; 20 hotels; 10 parks; and numerous other locations, including government services, community resources, retailers, restaurants, venues, museums, and more.

Thornton turns to Birmingham On-Demand for more than just her doctor’s appointments.

“I love the fact I can book them when I need them. It gives me another level of independence,” she said. “I may use it several times in one day … to go from my doctor’s office, to the pharmacy, to the grocery store, to get food, or just do whatever I need.”

McNair said he would recommend the service to anyone.

“The driving partners have been very helpful, and they are friendly and courteous,” he said. “If you are looking to find time-friendly, efficient transportation, I would say go to [Birmingham On-Demand, provided by] Via because they are on the cutting edge of today’s technology.”

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.