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Thu Jan 14, 2016, 06:04 PM

Alabama's sad transit system

This was in the December 14, 2015, Washington Examiner. Yes, that's a RW organ. The article was excerpted from another site.

Original article:

Our Failed Federal Transit Policy

Blog Post by: Jacob Anbinder , on November 20, 2015

Case in point: the announcement of $20 million in funding for a new bus rapid transit (BRT) line in Birmingham, Alabama. ... Transit advocates tend to hold BRT in high regard; when designed well, it can move far more people than a traditional bus (since the buses run in dedicated lanes) at the fraction of the cost of a rail line. And Alabama’s largest urban area certainly needs better transit—a recent report from the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota ranked Birmingham last among the 46 cities studied in every measure of job accessibility by transit.

For BRT to make sense, however, it must operate frequently enough that users can rely on it without hesitation. But the TIGER grant is no guarantee that Birmingham will adhere to this rule. For starters, the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority currently has only 14 vehicles in reserve for use at peak service, according to information from the National Transit Database—and not all of these are necessarily buses. While the grant announcement says the TIGER money will partly pay for additional buses, a spokesperson for the BJCTA told me that the City of Birmingham (which is the official grant recipient) has yet to decide how much money it will share with the agency for these purposes.

Even if the transit agency were able to acquire new buses, it is not clear whether it has enough money to operate them. Currently, the Birmingham transit agency relies mostly on contributions from local governments, plus a beer tax (in a state that doesn’t drink much) and funding from the local racing commission (which has recently been in dire straits). Alabama, meanwhile, is one of five state governments that provide no money for public transportation. A segregation-era amendment to the Alabama constitution, passed at a time when less than 5 percent of eligible African American voters in Jefferson County were registered, forbids any state gas-tax revenue from being spent on transit. Today, African Americans comprise 38 percent of all commuters in Jefferson County but 89 percent of all transit commuters, and are more than eight times likelier to use transit to get to work than their white counterparts. But the amendment still stands.

Little surprise, then, that two generations later, transit service in Birmingham is meager. Currently, buses rarely run more than twice an hour even on the system’s most vital corridors. Some of the less important routes operate just once a day in each direction, as Ashley Cleek reported in Al Jazeera earlier this year.

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