Terrified 82-year-old says Alabama uses tax dollars against her

Marva Douglas
Marva Douglas

Today’s guest columnist is Marva Douglas.

I was 12 years old in 1951.

Too young to vote.

But that really didn’t matter because even if I’d been an adult, I could not have voted.

Voting rights for Black people didn’t come until 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Alabama uses my tax dollars against me

But, in 1951, the Alabama legislature and its all-white voters added amendment 93 to the state’s constitution—an amendment that to this very day uses my tax dollars against me.

In 1951, a city bus was the transportation of the day. It gave transportation access to everybody. People could get to work in a timely manner.

School children could learn their city. Old folks (those my current age) could travel anywhere they wanted even though strict segregation laws meant all Black riders had to sit in the rear.  Sunday buses took riders to the church of their choice.

That is until Amendment 93 was added to the Constitution.

In 1951, lobbyist interested in promoting automobiles and highways proposed and backed Amendment 93 which says all gasoline tax dollars will go to bridges and highways ONLY!  Not one penny to mass transit even though buses are a public service just like, fire, police, Mayors’ and Governors’ salaries.  Public services and public servants are paid for with our tax dollars.

Alabama–one of only five states that provides no funding for public transit

According to Alabama Arise, “Alabama is one of only five states to provide no state funding for public transit, unlike all four of our neighbors. By failing to invest in these services, Alabama leaves millions of dollars in federal matching funds on the table yearly.

If public transit agencies in the state invest in new buses or vans, the federal government can contribute $4 for every $1 that Alabama invests. For other necessary public transportation expenses, the federal government can double any state investment.”

Federal government  has allotted $400 million to Alabama for public transportation

Public transportation now has a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The new national Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act allotted Alabama $400 million over five years for public transportation.

It vexes me greatly now that, in my later years, in addition to paying car insurance, gasoline taxes, maintenance etc., I must pay rent for a parking space whenever I go anywhere except my garage. Amendment 93, angers me even more mainly because when it was proposed, Black people could not even vote on it. They weren’t allowed to vote on anything. Period.

I’m terrified to drive

I’m a terrified 82-year-old- car driver who drives among people who ignore speed limit signs, interpret double yellow lines in the road as, “pass old ladies’ zones,” or think to themselves, “Honk. She’ll move faster.”

Our gasoline tax dollars go toward paving new roads, maintaining old ones, painting new yellow stripes, buying complex parking meters and building parking decks.  A better use of those funds should be to improve mass transit.

It’s time for a new amendment regarding taxes for transportation in this state.  We need an amendment specifically for funding mass transit.  An amendment everyone can vote on—most especially an amendment I can freely vote on while I still have the right to vote.

By the way, I’d love to sell my car, buy a monthly bus pass and ride a bus as my means of transportation. The monthly savings on car insurance, maintenance, and parking fees would be like manna from heaven.

Marva Douglas is a transit advocate, an actor, and  South Central Bell Telephone Company retiree who lives in Midfield.

David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  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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Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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12 thoughts on “Terrified 82-year-old says Alabama uses tax dollars against her”

  1. This column by Marva Douglas is brilliantly delivered, describing the many layers of issues that are interconnected. There is so much that is of great importance that needs to be done to reach the point of completion. It is far past the time to work on it with significant effect. Benefits are ahead resulting from removing Amendment 93 right away, considered.

    I remember the transit system she used it and I did too. There streetcars that were powered by electric overhead wires. They were noisy but got people to and from many places and left no fumes behind. There was no imagination about what would happen when every occupied seat would be empty because riders began to drive a car on their own most of the time. Automobile traffic now is so bad, and there is hardly any safe, workable, and affordable alternative.

    Every city needs to work in this direction, solving the dangerous and terrible traffic problems. Would it not be a good thing for Alabama and Birmingham to take the lead on something like this, instead of waiting for others to go first?

    1. It sure would be good. I serve on the Transit Citizens Advisory Board with Marva. She is one of our real stalwarts. She keeps us going!

      One problem is there is so much institutional inertia in Alabama. We have gone to public meetings of the Alabama Department of Transportation, and they always say “we can’t do anything because the voters want more roads.” Birmingham can’t do much without support from the state. Our transit agency was created by legislation in 1971 that essentially forces it to go to the municipalities in the region every year and beg for money. There are some real absurdities in the way it works. For example, since Fairfield is too poor to pay for transit, passengers going from Birmingham to Bessemer can’t stop there even though they would like to. There was a short-term grant to support Fairfield transit for awhile, but it ran out.

      We will have a Zoom forum on setting up the Public Transit Trust Fund, mandated by law in 2018, next Monday (the 16th) at 2:00. You can get the details at the TCAB Facebook page. I will try to make sure the Zoom link there works.

    2. You are kidding ? Alabama taking the lead on something.
      People much rather sit in traffic for hours. Unfortunately this also keeps poor people poor. Without a good running car one looses a job quickly.

  2. Ms Marva: This is a beautiful, real like example of the importance of public transit; and the hardships that result when we ignore it. We have the opportunity to shape our City and region for the better, while getting traffic and pollution better under control. Do we have the political will to free up some of the gas tax for public transit? Maybe. I hope that transit to and from the World Games will spark a change in our usual default to the status quo.

  3. If this were already underway, it really could become a significant for the World Games. For a fully operational system, adjustments can be made for such big events as that, and help attract more.

    Perhaps something like a ‘test drive’ could happen and help prove the point to the voting public.

    Think and act good people!

    1. Mr. Knight,
      I have actually made a radical proposal to our transit agency that they don’t seem to oppose, though it would cost a little money. Have bus drivers pass out excuses for being late to work! “I was late today because I took the bus.” There is no sense in pretending our service is good. I think this would actually work, because employers would know if a particular employee was abusing it. If the person did it every day it would not be believable. This would clue employers, who are mostly car drivers, that our system needs better funding. They know many employees cannot afford cars.

  4. I never knew about Amendment 93, very interesting and thank you for sharing. What if the city invested in Vans instead of giant buses that sit half empty most of the time?

    1. Stephen H,
      Marva’s TCAB colleague Ted Gemberling again. We might have to do that someday. I have sometimes had people say to me, “why do we have buses if they are mostly empty?” I worry about this problem, too. But what I always tell them is that if they ran more often, they wouldn’t be empty. Why take a bus if it only runs every hour (two hours on Saturday) and you can’t be sure it will even come? If they were every 30 minutes they would be used a lot more. If one doesn’t come for some reason and you know another one will be in 30 minutes, it’s not such a catastrophic thing.

      Another problem with our infrequent service is that it has come to be seen as something just for really poor people. If you are really poor, you will live with the hardships of the bad service. But that makes buses even less attractive for people. I have seen people get on the bus and fumble for change for a few minutes. They are waiting for someone else to pay their fare. I’ve lived in a number of other cities and never saw that. If you didn’t have your fare, you just wouldn’t get on the bus. If a bus is delayed waiting for someone to get his fare, it will be even later.

      1. You are correct on the matter of frequency. An outstanding example is the big city of Vancouver British Columbia, CA. Many busses arrive about every five minutes and they are very often standing room only. Do know that Vancouver is a very high density city with a large population too. But just think how many cars are not being used, fuel efficiency etc. in addition to the quality of service.

        Another important principle to apply is walkability things needed on a daily basis with an easy walking distance of home, work, food, recreation-entertainment, etc. That is something good that is beginning to happen n Downtown Birmingham, especially between Railroad Park and UAB.

        1. Good points. Vancouver can be an inspiration. It will be a tough battle to promote those values in the Birmingham area because we became such a car-oriented city decades ago. Compare Detroit with Toronto, Canada. Detroit was built on the idea of the magic of cars, and look at its fate. Toronto’s leaders didn’t have those delusions. I know Detroit’s troubles are not based just on that, but it is a major factor. The main thing that destroyed it was white flight. Freeways facilitated that.

  5. My young folks understand that there will be a bus shuttle regularly from Woodlawn to downtown during the World Games.

    One hopes to use that shuttle to commute to work downtown during the Games. An extension of this service after the Games would enable the couple to go to one vehicle and save the costs of buying, maintaining, and insuring a second vehicle. They can do school drop off, drop at the Woodlawn lot, and the other parent can still get to work further south on time. The reverse is true as well. Even better if the route is extended to East Lake where they live.

    These are young, educated working class parents, committed to living in the city, and to responsible use of their resources.

    Recently, they were fortunate to get a lottery slot to place their child in one of Birmingham’s charter schools, I3 Academy. This freed funds to enable them to buy a home in East Lake, and avoid continued costs of private school. That home needs a lot of work-it’s condition allowed them to buy it.

    Saving funds now devoted to a second vehicle would enable them to improve and maintain their 80 year old home.

    They are the sort of working class people that formed the core population of the City of Birmingham for decades. Making it possible for them and others in similar circumstances to live and work in the city is vital to future growth.

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