Birmingham Area Regional Transit Authority
The Birmingham Area Regional Transit Authority or BARTA was an authority envisioned by the Blue Ribbon Regional Mass Transit Committee appointed by the Jefferson County Commission in 1997. The authority would have been tasked with developing a plan to take to both Jefferson and Shelby county voters to determine if a tax should be imposed to help pay for a greatly expanded bus service as part of a regional transit network. The proposed transit network envisioned ridership of the system to increase from 18,000 a day to between 31,000 and 42,000, with an estimated annual operating budget of $27 million.
Originally envisioned to encompass both Jefferson and Shelby counties, by May 1997, Shelby County had asked to be excluded from the plan with county officials stating that a transit system wasn't a priority at that time. By June 1997, the Blue Ribbon Committee recommended that the referendum to raise the county sales tax for the BARTA proposal be held on October 14 to coincide with Birmingham's city elections. However, the vote was later postponed to coincide with the MAPS vote which occurred on August 4, 1998.
After the MAPS proposal failed, BARTA proponents sought to have another countywide referendum asking for only a one-quarter-cent sales tax for transit. When this was denied, BARTA supporters looked to the Jefferson County Commission to enact the transit since the referendum was nonbinding. The commission would then vote on the fate of the tax, and unable to reach a unanimous decision, the increase was defeated, and the BARTA proposal would never come to fruition.
The BARTA board was to have consisted of 10 members with the Birmingham City Council, the Jefferson County Commission and the Jefferson County Mayors' Association each appointing three members with and a citizen panel receiving the remaining appointment.
The BARTA proposal called for streamlining the existing bus network, while expanding service at the same time. Bus routes would be designed on flexible routes maximizing ridership in addition to utilizing various types of bus options from the existing MAX buses to vans. In order to accomplish this, the BARTA proposal called for tripling the MAX fleet of 78 buses, including the utilization of smaller buses and vans. BARTA estimated the new network would capture 50,000 rides a day, compared to the 11,000 now by MAX buses in the mid-1990s.
The BARTA proposal envisioned the following improvements and enhancements for the regional bus network:
- Buses would operate at 20 minute intervals during peak hours and 30 minute intervals at other times. This would be an improvement over the 30 and 80 minute intervals that existed in 1998.
- Park-and-ride lots with bus, car pool and van pool services along major routes would be established along major arterials leading into central Birmingham.
- A multi-modal transit center would be constructed downtown. A scaled-back Birmingham Central Station was eventually completed in lieu of the original vision.
- Downtown DART service would be expanded and increased.
- Special transit services would provide 2,000 more trips a day for disabled citizens in the county.
- Circulator bus service would be provided in high-traffic areas outside the central city. Some of the identified ares included: Eastwood, Lakeshore Parkway, Five Points West, Bessemer, southern Jefferson County and downtown Birmingham.
- Expanded bus service into suburban areas connecting with the existing system. The areas considered for this service initially included: Adamsville/Graysville, Fultondale/Gardendale, Alabama State Route 150, U.S. Highway 280, Lakeshore Parkway, Leeds and Trussville.
- Construction of high occupancy lanes (HOV lanes) restricted to car pools, van pools and buses along I-20/59, I-65 and U.S. 280.
- Development of a light rail network once transit levels merited its construction. The priority routes for rail identified by BARTA included 20/59 through downtown, to the airport, and along both I-65 and U.S. 280 from downtown Birmingham.
Funding for the BARTA proposals was proposed to come from a variety of different sources including:
- A one-quarter-cent sales tax for transit levied in Jefferson County that would raise $18.8 million annually.
- A $10 fee on auto emissions inspections that would raise $7 million annually.
- News Editorial Board (March 18, 1997) "Transit support: Birmingham council must get behind Blue Ribbon Committees plan to expand bus service." Birmingham News.
- Hulen, Tarra (May 19, 1997) "Mountain Brook won't oppose bus tax bill." Birmingham News.
- Parks, Dave & Jaronda Little (March 15, 1998) "MAPS would transform bus system." Birmingham News.
- Parks, Dave & Jaronda Little (March 15, 1998) "Preliminary plans made for routes of new buses." Birmingham News.
- White, David (August 9, 1998) "BARTA may spur tax vote in county." Birmingham News.
- Lard, Eddie (July 10, 2005) "Dome, like transit, shouldn't depend on one man's vote." Birmingham News.