Vestavia geezer stunned by Birmingham’s leap into 21st Century

Malcolm Carmichael
Malcolm Carmichael

Today’s guest columnist is Malcolm Carmichael.

My friend, Mike Buchanan, and I, both mature residents of suburbs south of the city, read the hype and wondered: what’s riding the Xpress really like?

Is it different from the existing bus service we’ve tried with limited success?

What will it accomplish?

We decided we must try it ourselves and on October 3rd made a day of it: we rode the entire Xpress system of 34 stops and transit centers.

By midday we were finished, stunned and delighted with the newness, efficiency and user friendly aspects of the BX.

We were beneficiaries of 21st century urban transit design!

On September 22, 2022, the City of Birmingham launched the Birmingham Xpress (the BX), the state’s first bus rapid transit system. The system was created by a partner-ship with the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration and the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority to develop a ten mile corridor between the east and west sections of the city.

The BX connects 25 neighborhoods to opportunities and vital services enabling citizens to reach employment, education, healthcare and recreational centers. Its 32 stops lie between the Woodlawn Transit Center on First Avenue N on the east and the CrossPlex Transit Center in Ensley on the west.

We began and ended our circular journey on the BX at its Central Station platform downtown. All 34 stops and centers are new, highly visible, well designed and safely situated sites. Each provides cover, benches and passenger information displays that flash the number of minutes before the next bus arrives. Every distinctive orange BX bus features low-level platform boarding, bi-level seating, wheelchair parking and bike racks.

Best of all, the service on our journey proved to be comfortable, fast and reliable. The driver made sure the bus used the designated bus lanes and parking areas to adhere closely to scheduled arrival and departure times. Monday through Friday, during peak hours (6 – 9 a.m. and 3 – 6 p.m.) buses arrive every 15 minutes while during off-peak hours (5 – 6 a.m.; 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.; and 6 -11 p.m.) they arrive every 30 minutes. On Saturdays the buses operate from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. and arrive every 30 minutes.

Birmingham Xpress
Birmingham Xpress

Xpress service, unlike that provided by regular buses, is rapid bus service. BX buses have dedicated special bus lane technology such as priority access at certain intersections and exclusive use of the 34 unique stations and terminal centers.

The bus stop locations are strategically placed to provide access to needed community services and popular attractions. Mike and I marveled at how close stops were to Central Station, UAB Hospital, Children’s Hospital and Princeton Baptist Medical Center. There were handy platforms placed at Railroad Park, UAB school complex, Memorial Park and the CrossPlex. Other stops furnished access within a few blocks to the Woodlawn business district, Sloss Furnaces and Rickwood Field.

Phone charging plugs are located under each seat of BX buses. All buses have access to Wi-Fi. Another passenger showed me that the app, “myStop,” which shows real time information on bus locations for regular city routes, also includes locations for BX buses.

Few other passengers used the BX during our trip which lasted approximately two hours. We counted only ten and several appeared to be riding for the first time. Two rode bicycles and mounted them on the bus rack.

It is clear that more efforts should be made to educate the community about this unique resource and to co-ordinate regular bus service with the BX system. For a map showing the BX route and station sites along with other information contact maxtransit.org/bx/l.

We completed our BX journey prior to November 22nd when passengers can ride free. BX fares will then be $1.50 per ride for adults and $3.50 for a day pass. Children under 12 ride free. Our driver explained there are discount fares (75 cents per ride or $2.00 for a day pass) for disabled persons, Medicaid recipients, veterans and seniors. Tickets will be sold from off board vending machines located at each stop and transit center.

During a late lunch downtown after the ride, we discussed the impact of the BX on Birmingham. It was obvious that it will contribute to the public good and may lead to extending rapid transit to other parts of the city.

The BX provides the greater community expanded access to healthcare, education, employment and recreation while offering visitors pathways to our historical and tourism locations. It could be a needed catalyst for more social inclusiveness and removal of cultural barriers.

We pledged to ride the BX again.

Malcolm Carmichael grew up in Birmingham and is now a retired resident of Vestavia Hills. He enjoys reading, movies, photography, walking, swimming, writing and the Shades Valley YMCA.

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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5 thoughts on “Vestavia geezer stunned by Birmingham’s leap into 21st Century”

  1. I now reside in Huntsville, but I was born and partially raised in the “Ham.” I have lived there on and off as an adult several times. I like to keep up somewhat with the “happenings” there. The BX bus system is good news. As a person that had to rely on the bus system here in Huntsville for a short while, it can be quite frustrating and demeaning. Huntsville also has plans in action for an improved transit system with help from federal funds. We’ll see. I enjoyed your article very much. It won’t happen but your article made me want to come to B’ham just to ride. Thank You, Geezerette, Charlotte Cone.

  2. So glad to see this!! Long time coming, but hopefully, this is the spine we talked about for so long that will support further transportation improvements. Kudos to all who worked so hard for this!

  3. I am excited, too, but here’s one worrisome quote:

    “Few other passengers used the BX during our trip which lasted approximately two hours. We counted only ten and several appeared to be riding for the first time.”

    As you may have heard, users of regular routes are mad that BX has drawn operators from them so they have become less reliable. There is apparently a nationwide shortage of people who want to be bus drivers, and BJCTA is struggling to get more.

    I also wonder if Birmingham sort of needs to “grow into” the BX. There needs to be higher density along the route, both businesses and residences, so more people will use it.

    I want to spend a whole day riding the BX. One thing I want to check into is the routes that were planned to end at the two BX portals rather than going to Central Station, as they have until now. I hope they kept to that plan.

  4. I’m not sure how to say this kindly but who cares? I mean that honestly. Why does BX matter? Will it really make a difference? My understanding is it’s just a nicer newer bus for low wage people to ride to/from work. I seriously doubt many people OTM will ride it into a game/event – like ever. How is it really different than MAX?

    1. BJCTA hopes for a north-south route, too. This might parallel (or replace?) the current Magic City Connector, which goes from BJCC to downtown Homewood (18th Street). Perhaps it will go even further into OTM territory.

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