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Free Rides on Birmingham Xpress Bus Line to Begin on Mon. June 19

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By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Beginning Monday, June 19, Birmingham Xpress bus rapid transit (BRT) system will be free for nearly a year, following the City Council’s approval on Tuesday of spending $300,000 with the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA).

The money is intended to be a temporary fix for some BRT riders who, due to route changes made by the BJCTA in May, have been paying additional fares for trips which would have previously only required one payment.

While a pilot for the new system could be in place by October or November, the free BRT service could be available for as long as nine or 10 months, according to Charlotte Shaw, CEO of the BJCTA.

In the meantime, the BJCTA will develop a new mobile payment application to encompass all of its services including the MAX fixed route, BRT and Via trips.

The Birmingham Xpress rapid bus line launched in September and offers a single, 10-mile route that runs from east to west across the city, from Five Points West to Woodlawn, with a total of 32 stops. Currently, a one-way trip costs $1.50, while round-trip fare is $3.50. Dedicated bus lanes make the Xpress line faster than other BJCTA routes.

When the service launched, it was free to riders but those numbers changed when it was no longer free, said City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, chair of the council’s Transportation Committee.

“…when the fares were implemented, that ridership fell off, so we’re anticipating that as a side benefit of this temporary fare elimination, that we’ll see ridership pick back up and it’ll be for an extended period,” O’Quinn said.

Just before Tuesday’s vote, Councilor Hunter Williams said officials should consider making the BRT system permanently free.

“I just still can’t believe that the city of Birmingham spent, along with $20 million from the [federal government], about $66 million on this BRT, and we’re not just making it free for $300,000 a year…in perpetuity,” Williams said.

The approval of the spending comes as some city leaders are in disagreement about whether to collect $8 million from the transit authority, per an agreement which was passed in 2018.

However, all seemed cordial at the council meeting on Tuesday, Shaw thanked city leadership for their work with the BJCTA, specifically pointing to Mayor Randall Woodfin and Chaz Mitchell, the mayor’s chief of operations.

“Your leadership and your support, it is making an absolute difference in what we’re doing at BJCTA. Chaz [Mitchell], thank you so much for all your input and your support, and Mayor Randall [Woodfin], we appreciate you as always, and you all are taking this company to the next level,” Shaw said.

Shaw also thanked Councilor O’Quinn for his leadership and encouragement.