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, Homewood, Hoover, Midfield, Mountain Brook, Tarrant and Vestavia Hills.
Currently, the authority operates 31 routes to serve about 400,000 people across a 200 square-mile service area. Its headquarters offices are located in the Birmingham Intermodal Facility 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 made the loops, despite the fact that Central Station was designed as a transfer hub. New hub and spoke routes were implemented with the completion of the Birmingham Intermodal Facility in 2017.
Since 2005 BJCTA has used "Fleet-Net" software to manage accounting, payroll, human resources, fleet maintenance, asset management, inventory, planning, scheduling, procurement, operations management, and statistical reporting. In 2017 the authority added the "MyAvail" package from Avail Technologies to enable real-time fleet management, computer-aided dispatch, automatic vehicle location, passenger counting and automated vehicle announcements. The system allowed the BJCTA to add real-time information to its website and to Google Transit, as well as by text and through the "MAX MyStop" smartphone app, which was launched that September.
The BJCTA was awarded a $20 million Federal Transit Authority (FTA) grant in October 2015 to plan and construct a Bus Rapit Transit system. In 2018 a former employee and former board member filed a lawsuit under the False Claims Act accusing director Barbara Murdock and Strada CEO Edmund Watters of creating false records to the FTA. At trial in 2022, a jury found that the defendants' activities had defrauded the FTA of $360,000. Under the terms of the False Claims Act, U.S. District Court Judge Corey Maze tripled the amount to be recovered to $1,080,000, of which a fourth ($270,000) was awarded to the two plaintiffs.
In 2019 the Jefferson County Commission voted to fund service to several municipalities (Adamsville, Forestdale, Brighton, Lipscomb, Fultondale, Gardendale and Fairfield) that had not paid for MAX service. The funding runs from June to October 2019. At the same time, BJCTA began to address shortfalls in the rate it had charged to the City of Birmingham by consolidating routes and cutting service hours. The authority scheduled public hearings on those proposed changed in July and requested that Mayor Randall Woodfin try to "close the gap" in the 2020 Birmingham budget. With no additional funds made available in the city's budget, the BJCTA began planning for an approximately 30% cut to services along with a fare hike from $1.25 to $2.00 beginning on September 23. The BJCTA board rejected those proposals at their September 4 meeting, then passed the budget on a 4-2 vote on September 18.
In May 2020 the BJCTA was awarded a $21.4 million grant from the federal "CARES Act" economic relief program for the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic. The funds were applied to ongoing operations and maintenance to offset revenue losses and prevent service cuts.
In 2021 the BJCTA undertook a Comprehensive Operational Analysis with the expectation that it would update services and routes in states between September 2021 and May 2022. In June 2022 it began operating the Birmingham Xpress bus rapid transit service.
- 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– September 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-April 2018
- Frank Martin, July 2019-September 30, 2021
- Charlotte Shaw, October 1, 2021–
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 Ruby Davis. Davis was replaced by Darryl Cunningham as chair in April of the same year.
Almost all of the BJCTA's transit vehicles are purchased with 80% federal funds awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration (FTA) under its Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities program (49 U.S.Code §5307 & 5339, 2015 FAST Act §3017). BJCTA revenues, as well as one-time grants from Jefferson County or the City of Birmingham, have provided the 20% local match. The State of Alabama does not fund public transit. Additional federal funds have been awarded as part of economic stimulus and relief legislation.
Over time the BJCTA has moved from diesel-powered buses to vehicles powered by cleaner-burning compressed natural gas (CNG). In 2021 the authority acquired its first battery electric buses with a $1.5 million FTA grant.
The BJCTA currently operates the 70 fixed-route transit vehicles for revenue service:
- No. 2101-2112: 12 North American Bus Industries CNG transit buses, purchased in 2010
- No. 300-329: 30 New Flyer Industries Xcelsior XN40, 41-foot CNG-powered transit buses, purchased in 2013.
- No. 600-608: 9 New Flyer Industries Xcelsior XN40, 41-foot CNG-powered transit buses, purchased in 2016.
- No. 609-611: 2 New Flyer Industries Xcelsior XN40, 41-foot CNG-powered transit buses, purchased in 2017.
- No. 1900-1910: 11 New Flyer Industries Xcelsior XN35, 35-foot CNG-powered transit buses, purchased in 2019
- 2 New Flyer Industries Xcelsior ChargeNG 35-foot battery electric transit buses, purchased in 2021.
The authority also operates an on-demand paratransit service using 40 24-foot vehicles:
- No. 201-206: 6 Ford E-550 paratransit vans, purchased in 2014
- Ford Transit paratransit vans, purchased in 2018–2019
The authority also operates a number of vehicle maintenance, facilities maintenance, and supervisors' vehicles.
Former fleet vehicles
- 10 Flxible 45096-6-1 35-foot diesel-powered transit buses, purchased in 1974
- 5 Transportation Manufacturing Corp. RTS-08 diesel-powered transit buses, purchased in 1993
- 22 AM General "Metropolitan Series" 9635-6 35-foot diesel-powered transit buses, purchased in 1975
- 30 General Motors TH-7603 35-foot diesel-powered transit buses, purchased in 1979
- 28 Grumman-Flxible 870 40-foot diesel-powered transit buses, purchased in 1981
- 46 Gillig "Phantom" 40-foot diesel-powered transit buses, purchased in 1987
- 5 Transportation Manufacturing Corp. RTS-08 diesel-powered transit buses, purchased in 1993
- 14 Blue Bird "Q-Bus" diesel-powered transit bus, purchased in 1995
- 43 OBI Orion Bus Industries Orion VI CNG-powered 40-foot transit buses, purchased in 2000
- 11 Chance Coach/Optima Bus Corp. AH-28 CNG-powered "American Heritage Streetcar" coaches, purchased in 2001–2002
- 22 Optima Bus Corp. "Opus" LFB-29 low-floor 30-foot diesel-powered midibuses, purchased in 2004
- 2 Optima Bus Corp. "Opus" LFB-35 low-floor 35-foot diesel-powered midibuses, purchased in 2004
- 10 Orion Bus Industries Orion VII low-floor suburban buses, 2005 model year, purchased in 2015 from Gwinnett County, Georgia
- 12 North American Bus Industries 31-LFW, 31-foot low-floor transit buses (built in Anniston), purchased in 2010
- 15 Goshen/Ford Econoline CNG Paratransit Vans, purchased in 2010
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 was set to last for three years, during which time the team would construct and demonstrate the vehicle. (Bryant-2006)
Using federal grants along with matching funds from the Birmingham Economic and Community Revitalization Ordinance, which became effective in January 2008, the authority made 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 never 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.
- 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
- Birmingham Xpress (Bus Rapid Transit)
- Light rail
- List of transit proposals
- "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
- "New Flyer to deliver Xcelsiors to Ala." (January 31, 2013) Metro magazine.
- 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
- Crenshaw, Solomon, Jr (September 9, 2016) "The road to a viable transit system in Birmingham" The Birmingham Times
- Edgemon, Erin (September 28, 2017) "Where is my bus? New MAX Transit app will help with that." The Birmingham News
- Tackett, Richard (October 1, 2017) "BJCTA keeps it together with Avail Technologies and Fleet-Net Corporation" BusRide.com
- Coker, Angel (April 9, 2018) "BJCTA lands $3.6M in federal funding to replace buses." Birmingham Business Journal
- Johnson, Roy S. (November 19, 2018) "2 BJCTA senior execs fired; ex-finance director says criminal past was fully disclosed." The Birmingham News
- Crenshaw, Solomon, Jr (April 22, 2019) "All Aboard!: JeffCo Will Pay to Start Bus Service to Several Small Cities." BirminghamWatch
- Johnson, Roy S. (June 20, 2019) "Johnson: Bham transit’s interim leader is now the CEO; get ready for more change." The Birmingham News
- Johnson, Roy S. (July 29, 2019) "BJCTA proposing significant route cuts in Birmingham, fare hike, in wake of financial miscalculations." The Birmingham News
- Johnson, Roy S. (September 19, 2019) "Johnson: BJCTA finally OKs $34.5 million budget (with drama, of course)." The Birmingham News
- "New Buses Join Fleet of Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority." (September 30, 2019) BJCTA press release
- Coker, Angel (May 27, 2021) "BJCTA adds two new battery electric buses to its fleet." Birmingham Business Journal
- Pernell, Avalon (July 15, 2021) "Service changes are coming for Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority." Birmingham Business Journal
- Johnson, Roy S. (August 30, 2021) "Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority names new CEO." The Birmingham News
- Johnson, Roy S. (March 11, 2022) "Federal judge awards $1M in whistleblower lawsuit against Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority; CEO responds." The Birmingham News