Homewood kicked to the curb for trying to do the right thing

Peter Wright, President Pro Tem Homewood City Council
Peter Wright, President Pro Tem Homewood City Council

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blog was written by Peter Wright as response to “Sometimes you have to laugh at Homewood.

 If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

Thanks for all you do for the City of Birmingham, but as a member of Homewood City Council, I have to respond to your most recent article about “laughing” at “dumb” ‘ol Homewood for looking at a bus service of its own.

I’m sure you are not aware of all of the history of this problem, most particularly that about a year ago, we as a City wanted to take on a leadership role and set an example for regional cooperation with mass transit with the former director of the Transit Authority.  But such efforts, I believe in part, resulted in that former director actually being terminated and we were tossed to the curb yet again

The problem we’re facing in Homewood is that we are charged $360K a year (a significant increase from last year) for only a dozen or so Homewood citizens who regularly use the bus service because we have to pay for all of the empty buses riding through our City.

We do have a special needs population that is regularly bused into our city, along with some customers for our businesses, and we have attempted to tailor the bus service to our city’s needs, but to no avail.

We had a meeting with BJCTA officials this year with that in mind and were met with an effort to further expand, not reduce, the empty bus service in our city. Adding frustration to all of this, our city was kicked off the Transit Authority a few years back even though we’re the third highest fee payer into the system.

None of this makes any sense. And then we had to take steps to make sure our fee was not directly taken out of our ad valorem funds so that we could properly budget for it every year. Notwithstanding that, the BJCTA attempted to take the funds out of ad valorem again this year.

We don’t know what else to do. We even tried to adjust our bus service by using ClasTran to take care of our special needs users and that was blocked with the BJCTA threatening to curb its business with ClasTran if they attempted to provide such service to our City.

Respectfully, I don’t think your article furthers regional cooperation by referring to Homewood as “dumb” for looking into whether any other type of bus service could be arranged for a city that pays $360K a year for empty buses to ride through its city.

I firmly believe the BJCTA doesn’t want to discuss a reduction of our service to meet our needs because if we paid based on our use of the service, that would result in a huge financial cut to the BJCTA. So, we as a city are at a crossroads. We would love to arrange for a proper Homewood service for about 1/3 of what we’re paying but since that doesn’t seem possible, we may just have to look to other bus service arrangements.

I hope this helps to enlighten you as to the problems that our City is facing. Our neighboring jurisdictions are not dealing with these same costs because the empty bus time in their cities is not nearly as great. Thanks for your time and consideration of this response.

Peter Wright is a 21 year resident of Homewood and President Pro-Tem of the City Council. He’s an attorney with Sirote & Permutt and President-elect for the Probate Section of the Birmingham Bar Association. He’s married and has two children.

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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5 thoughts on “Homewood kicked to the curb for trying to do the right thing”

  1. Two things Mr. Wright left out of his “Blog”. The first is under Act 1971-993 State of Alabama, Section 7, clearly states what determines seats on a Transit Board. City of Homewood lost their seat due to population which was determined by the 2010 Census. They did not get “Kicked Off” as he phrased it. He should know this as a city councilor and an attorney. The second thing is the cost paid is determined by services requested. It would be as if my neighbor and I went to the supermarket, I buy 10 steaks my neighbor buys 4 and when we compare cost I complain I had to pay more simply because I bought more steaks.

  2. Thank you, Peter Wright for writing this article. As a reader, not originally from this area, and not intimately acquainted with the negotiations that go on between the funding municipalities and the BJCTA I appreciate additional insight into the reasons for the various municipal negotiating positions.

    However, in my mind, this article raises more questions than it answers.

    Why are the buses mostly empty when they go through Homewood? Is it because their destinations (jobs and malls) and routes aren’t in the right places? Is it because of the time of day that the buses run? Frequency of service? Appropriateness of routes?

    What I see here in the Birmingham region is that if you can’t run a car (at a median cost of $5,000/year, including gas and maintenance), are physically incapable of driving or have had your license removed for health reasons or because of a criminal conviction, you are screwed for transportation. You have _no_ independence. And given this region’s lack of suburban sidewalks, you are also in physical danger as a pedestrian on many of the roads.

    Many people in the region have been hit hard by changes in industry or technology, many older workers have disabilities as a legacy of physical work. The current lack of affordable and time-efficient public transport makes the climb out of poverty hellishly more difficult than it needs to be. It’s a real impediment – and I would put to the good burghers of Homewood, that it you don’t want to live next door to those who need to use the buses, then by gawd, at least help make them reasonably effective and usable.

  3. Homewood has recently considered leaving the metro bus system citing costs and “empty” buses as reasons. If we take a look at the current bus service that passes through the Homewood city limits, we see that there are 3 routes: 14, 39, and 42.

    Two of these routes, the 39 and 42, travel down 20th street, over Red Mountain, and into historic downtown Homewood. At this point they split. The 42 continues south to Brookwood Village Mall and Brookwood Hosptial. The 39 turns west and heads through Edgewood, down broadway and out to the shopping district on Green Springs Hwy, Lakeshore, and then the business district on west Lakeshore.

    The third route, the 14, travels from downtown Birmingham through Southside, along Greensprings Hwy, and to the shopping districts on Valley and Oxmoor Rd.

    One of the complaints by the city of Homewood is that the buses are always “empty”. But if we look at the 2015 year end report available on BJCTA’s website, we see some very interesting stats.

    – The route 14 was the route with the 3rd highest ridership in the whole system! This route serves 16,000 riders per month or about 533 riders per day.
    – The route 39 was in the top 15 routes for highest ridership. It averages about half of the 14 at 8,000 riders per month or about 266 riders per day.
    – The route 42 averages about 4,100 riders per month or about 136 riders per day.

    We see that the 42 has fairly low ridership, but 136 riders per day is hardy an empty bus. Especially considering the fact that the 39 and 42 have NO EVENING SERVICE OR WEEKEND SERVICE and frequency is between 1 hour and 1 and a half hours depending on the time of day.

    That’s right, the 39 and 42 operate from around 6am to 6pm and don’t run at all on Saturday and Sunday. As a working professional (software engineer) with an 8-5, I would love to come to Homewood after work to meet friends for dinner or go shopping in downtown Homewood or Brookwood mall on the weekends. But I literally cannot! As someone who chooses to ride the bus, this also means I have to choose to take my business elseware, where bus service does run when I need it.

    Let’s say that I did want to come to Homewood from downtown for lunch or to run an errand during the day. The frequency of the buses is between 1 hour and 1 and a half hours depending on the time of day. This turns a 30 minute errand into several hours, and no one with a choice has that kind of time!

    What I don’t understand, is Homewood city council seems to think that reducing service and making it even worse is a better investment. Since the service hours and frequency are already so limited, the only people who are taking the bus through Homewood are those that have no other options. Reducing the service is just going to make it even more difficult for those riders and certainly is not going to gain any new choice riders. All you are going to see is the number of riders diminish completely over time.

    If Homewood really wants bus service, the right option is to invest more. We need frequency of less than 20 minutes. We need evening service. We must have weekend service! Homewood is a great destination and the bus could be an excellent link for everyone between Homewood and Birmingham.

    David Sher is right. What we need is for all the cities in our Metro area to actually work together. We need to go to the state and finally get some dedicated funding for public transit. Excellent public transit is a MUST if we want to attract talented people and businesses. We are in this together. Let’s start acting like it!

    1. 2 great posts above. I live in Homewood and work in Hoover. The 31 bus drives through Homewood but does not Stop!! I would have to take the bus downtown, transfer, and a 12 minute route to work suddenly takes me 90 minutes. That is insane. Blow the whole thing up and start over.

      However, Homewood should be prepared to pay more. $360,000 seems like next to nothing for a city our size and the amounts we spend on other things. Homewood is a walkable city that can be made more bike friendly and much more appealing if it could be connected better to public transportation to Birmingham, Vestavia and Hoover.

    2. MD,
      Thanks for the excellent, detailed reply on why more service and investment rather than less makes more sense!

      I do think it’s important to admit that Homewood has a legitimate beef about not having a seat on the BJCTA Board. They contribute a lot to the system and should have a voice on it. However, as Donald pointed out, BJCTA’s enabling legislation currently prevents that (absurdly, in my opinion). Maybe it looked sensible in 1971 when the law was passed, but not today. At that time, the framers of the legislation apparently assumed that the population of a city would determine how much transit service it got. That has not turned out to be correct. In retrospect, it probably never made sense, because by the very nature of suburban sprawl, the further out someone lived, the more car-dependent he would tend to be. So as large as it is, Hoover has very little interest in transit.

      As MD points out, it’s short sighted to focus just on how many Homewood residents ride regular routes. Birmingham residents spend money in Homewood when they take buses, and Homewood gets tax revenue from that.

      These inequities can’t be resolved completely until we get a truly regional system. As it is, BJCTA has to try to get money every year from municipalities. Since Fairfield is broke, its transit-dependent people lose the ability to get to their jobs and doctors. Birmingham and Homewood residents can’t get to Fairfield.

      I believe we have a basic moral choice today. Yes, it is moral. Do we as a region want to keep fragmenting into our little communities, or do we want to work together? Yes, let’s admit that the BJCTA system as it is now is unjust, but let’s not give up on it when so many people depend on it.

      Ted Gemberling, Transit Citizens Advisory Board secretary

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