By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority on Monday kicked off a connectivity information series to get rider feedback on upcoming route changes and announced a “No Rider Left Behind” program to mitigate some effects of the changes.
The sessions began at the Birmingham Xpress (BX) East Station and will continue through next Thursday at the Five Points West Library.
The information sessions will cover connectivity and route changes that will begin in mid-May aimed at enhancing efficiency, increasing reliability and decreasing wait times between trips.
Those changes, which shorten some MAX bus routes and eliminate others, were first announced in March. The route changes are an attempt to improve efficiency in a system suffering a shortage of operators, or bus drivers, said Sam South, director of communications for the BJCTA.
The meetings will be: Thursday, April 6, Fairfield City Hall, 5 P.M.-6:30 P.M.; Wednesday, April 12, Intermodal Board Room, Sessions 10 a,m, – 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.; Thursday, April 13, Five Points West Library, 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
In May, four MAX bus routes will now include transfers at one of the two new BX transit centers, instead of going to Central Station downtown.
Because riders will transfer from MAX buses to BX buses, riders of those routes, seven, 17, 25 and 48, should expect to pay two fares, if they complete the transfers, said Wytangy Peak-Finney, senior director of planning and development for the BJCTA, on Monday.
The double fare payment may change, though. Peak-Finney said the BJCTA is currently working to unify the BX and MAX bus fare payment systems. In the meantime, riders will have to pay twice, “but the fare’s only $1.50,” Peak-Finney said.
On top of the new transfers, the BJCTA also announced in March that routes 12, 18 and 43 would be eliminated in May.
Even without the bus routes, South said, most of the areas affected by the route eliminations are covered by Birmingham On-Demand (BOD), a low-cost ride-booking service in the city.
“What we’re doing is taking those routes and allowing BOD to cover for them, so that we can utilize our operators [who can] be more efficient in other areas,” South said.
However, there are still some areas that will lose routes which aren’t served by BOD. Through the BJCTA’s “No Rider Left Behind” program, though, the authority will run its own on-demand ride-booking service in the areas without BOD service for the first 30 days after the route changes are made.
For routes 12 and 43, MAX On-Demand will fill in the gaps left behind by the route eliminations. Those routes primarily serve Birmingham’s Red Mountain community and the Birmingham Zoo, respectively.
The on-demand service will consist of a few Mercedes and Ford vans that will pick up riders at key locations along the former routes. While full-size buses require drivers to have Commercial Driver’s License certification, the vans do not, minimizing some burden on the transit system, South said.
South also said that the BJCTA is still determining how users will call rides for their service, whether that will be through a smartphone app, a phone call or some other means.
MAX On-Demand also serves as a first trial of the BJCTA’s own ride-booking service operating in the city of Birmingham, which could start by the end of 2023, The Birmingham Times previously reported.
The BJCTA has operated a similar service, called MAX-DIRECT, which shuttles riders between Central Station and Mountain Brook, since 2019.
For more information call 205-521-0101 or visit here.
Updated at 12:07 p.m. on 4/4/2023 to clarify the location of the April 13 informational session.