Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority
The Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority, also called MAX (Metro Area eXpress) or BJCTA is the public transit authority of the Birmingham District. The authority provides bus service throughout Jefferson County including the municipalities of Birmingham, Bessemer, Brighton, Fairfield, Homewood, Hoover, Lipscomb, Midfield, Mountain Brook, Tarrant and Vestavia Hills. Currently, the authority operates 109 buses and has 37 routes to serve the county's citizens. Its headquarters is located in the Birmingham Central Station in downtown Birmingham.
Regular MAX bus service is provided to over 2,000 bus stops on 38 routes in the region. Most routes are run hourly Monday through Saturday from 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Downtown DART buses run on a more frequent schedule beginning at 10:00 AM with extended evening hours on Fridays and Saturdays and limited Sunday service. Paratransit services are also provided to qualified individuals by application.
The BJCTA has its origins in Birmingham's earliest mass transit operator, the Birmingham Street Railway Company established in 1884. By 1890 multiple private transport carriers had emerged in the rapidly expanding city resulting in the consolidation as the Birmingham Railway & Electric Company. They would operate Birmingham's first electric streetcar in 1891 and put into operation Birmingham's first motor buses in 1921. In 1948 transit ridership reached an all time peak at 93 million passengers.
In 1951 the company changed its name to the Birmingham Transit Company and began the process of dismantling the remnants of the once expansive streetcar network. The privately-owned system saw profits drop as more commuters took to driving personal cars to and from suburban enclaves. John Jemison sold the assets of the transit company to the newly-created Birmingham Transit Authority in 1971. That same year, the Alabama State Legislature passed 1971 Act of Alabama No. 993, authorizing the Jefferson County Transit Authority to convene and issue bonds for investment in transit.
The two were combined in 1977 into the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority following passage of 1977 Act of Alabama No. 232, which provided revenues from ad valorem taxes from the county and participating municipalities based on residency. The initial BJCTA system served eight municipalities—Bessemer, Birmingham, Brighton, Fairfield, Homewood, Irondale, Mountain Brook and Tarrant—each of which paid a 10% ad valorem tax, which was added to a 6% county-wide tax. In 1982 an additional $2 million in annual revenues, from a tax on the sale of beer sponsored by Rep. Earl Hilliard, was made available to the BJCTA.
Federal grants have also been available to match approximately 20% of the system's budget. The state of Alabama, in compliance with Amendment 93 to the Alabama Constitution of 1901, provides no funding to public transit. Opposition to funding for transit is widely viewed to be rooted in racial prejudice.
In 1974 the BJCTA experimented with making ridership free in a downtown "Green Zone". It was successful in stimulating commercial activity downtown, but was discontinued, partly due to complaints from Homewood and Bessemer, where related slumps in shopping were reported.
The BJCTA has struggled throughout its existence to plan routes with the agreement and financial support of the county's numerous independent municipalities. Cost-cutting in any one city can imperil routes depended on by residents of several others.
Due to reduced revenues, the board voted 5-3 to shut down the BJCTA system in February 1981. Birmingham became the largest city in the United States without a bus system for three months before service was resumed in June. Former riders who had relied on buses were forced to find alternatives during the shutdown, and when service resumed, only 18,000 of the system's previous average of 30,000 riders returned.
Attempts to establish a stable, region-wide funding source have thus far been in vain. One repeated failed proposal combined support for transit with emissions inspections for private vehicles in a two-pronged effort to reduce carbon emissions in Jefferson County. By 2011 the Brookings Institution found that only 32% of Birmingham-area workers had access to public transit, far fewer than in all other cities it had surveyed.
Prior to 1999 riders had to use an extensive and confusing system of loops made by each route around the central business district to make transfers. The routes still make the loops, despite the fact that Central Station was designed for this purpose.
In 2017 the BJCTA launched the "MAX MyStop" smart phone app which helps users plan bus trips and provides real-time location data and arrival times. In October 2017 the Birmingham City Council approved $20 million in matching funds to qualify for a TIGER grant to develop an east-west first phase corridor of a Bus Rapid Transit system.
- Phil Gary, 1990-January 1996
- Art Barnes, 1996
- Paul Ballard, 1997–1999
- Wilfred Beal, 1999–2000
- Kenneth Gordon, 2000–2002
- Debra Anderson-Burse (acting), December 2002-January 2003
- Mark Stanley, 2003–2004
- David Hill, 2004–2008
- William Coplin, 2008–2010
- Peter Behrman, 2010–March 2012
- Debra Anderson-Burse (acting), March 2012-January 2013
- Ann Dawson-August, January 2013-October 2015
- Barbara Murdock, interim October 2015-August 2016
- Barbara Murdock, August 2016-
The BJCTA board, by 1971 legislation, is comprised of a nine-member board with five representatives from Birmingham, one appointed by the Jefferson County Commission, and one each from the three other participating municipalities with the biggest populations. For many years, the three seats based on population were occupied by representatives from Bessemer, Mountain Brook, and Homewood. Despite populations having shifted years before, it wasn't until 2012 that the rule was rediscovered, resulting in the Homewood and Mountain Brook seats being cleared for representatives from Hoover and Vestavia Hills.
Following the resignation of Joyce Brooks in September 2014, the board was comprised of Andrew Edwards, Patricia Henderson, Reginald Jeter, Johnnye Lassiter, Bacarra Mauldin, Patrick Sellers, and Adam Snyder. Sellers succeeded Lassiter as chair following a vote on January 5, 2015. Tameka Wren was appointed to the board in October 2017 and was elected chair that November. She resigned in February 2018 and was succeeded by Donald Harwell.
The BJCTA currently operates the following transit vehicles:
- 6 Chance Coach Co. "DART" trolleys, burning compressed natural gas
- 21 Optima Opus buses (purchased in 2004)
- 43 Orion VII low-floor CNG buses (purchased in 2000)
- 20 Blue Bird TC buses (14 from 1995, being phased out as more new buses are purchased)
- 15 Goshen/Ford Econoline CNG Paratransit Vans (purchased with federal grants in 2010)
- 7 shuttles
- 12 NABI CNG buses, built in Anniston (purchased in 2010 as part of a plan to replace the aging fleet with all-CNG buses)
The authority also has five Ford Explorer supervisor vehicles, two Ford F-350 maintenance trucks, and a Ford Econoline facilities maintenance van.
Using federal grants along with matching funds from the Birmingham Economic and Community Revitalization Ordinance, which became effective in January 2008, the authority plans to replace the 75 buses in the fleet with 100 new CNG buses. They hoped to launch the new fleet by October 2009, but city funds were not budgeted. On August 20, 2009 the U. S. Department of Transportation announced that the BJCTA would be awarded $8.7 million in stimulus money for five 40-foot buses and twelve 31-foot buses.
In October 2006 the BJCTA, UAB and Innovation Drive, an Alexandria, Virginia company, received a $5.6 million federal grant to develop a 37-seat hybrid hydrogen-powered bus. The project is set to last for three years, during which time the team will construct and demonstrate the vehicle. (Bryant - 2006)
- See main article at Heritage streetcars
Shortly after taking office, Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford asked the BJCTA board to put together a proposal for a downtown streetcar system. The board suggested a 2.5 mile route that would connect the Birmingham Central Station to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. They estimated that such a system could be provided for around $33 million.
In April 2008 the BJCTA announced that it would solicit bids for the design and construction of the suggested system. Board members also made plans to travel to Milan, Italy to shop for streetcars which would be used on the route.
- Birmingham Area Regional Transit Authority
- Light rail
- List of MAX Transit Routes
- List of transit proposals
- Magic City Connector
- "Chronology of Birmingham's Public Transit System". (September 27, 2006) .
- Bryant, Joseph D. (October 13, 2006) "Hybrid hydrogen bus plan wins $5.6 million." The Birmingham News
- Hansen, Jeff (January 16, 2008) "Metro Birmingham's transit system needs newer, more efficient buses." The Birmingham News
- "MAX bus service runs Monday-Saturday" (April 30, 2008) The Birmingham News
- DeButts, Jimmy (April 30, 2008) "Transit authority soliciting streetcar proposals." Birmingham Business Journal
- MacDonald, Ginny (August 21, 2009) "Feds OK stimulus money for new MAX buses in Birmingham." The Birmingham News
- Spencer, Thomas (May 15, 2011) "Patchwork governments: Patchwork city makes it difficult to get there, back." The Birmingham News
- Natta, André (February 29, 2012) "Another one gets (forced) off the BJCTA bus" The Terminal
- Bryant, Joseph D. (March 1, 2012) "Mountain Brook, Homewood lose transit board seats as Hoover, Vestavia Hills gain." The Birmingham News
- Brooks, Joyce E. (October 17, 2013) "MAX Transit 50 Years Forward" Weld for Birmingham
- Cleek, Ashley (November 6, 2013) "On the Bus: Part One" Weld for Birmingham
- Cleek, Ashley (November 12, 2013) "On the Bus: Part Two" Weld for Birmingham
- Hoppe, Ian (June 23, 2014) "Reputations, roadblocks, and optimism: Birmingham transit and its bright future." The Birmingham News
- Edgemon, Erin (September 28, 2017) "Where is my bus? New MAX Transit app will help with that." The Birmingham News
- Coker, Angel (November 1, 2017) "City council approves matching federal funds for new transit system." Birmingham Business Journal