Is Jefferson County about to lose #1 license plate?

Alabama License Plate
Jefferson County license plates begin with the number 1.

By David Sher

I’m going to talk about Alabama’s  license plate codes to  belly-ache about our Birmingham regions lack of growth.

When I was a child traveling out of state and I saw an Alabama license plate beginning with the number 1, I would proudly proclaim to my family that the folks in that car were from Birmingham, and I would think to myself: Birmingham, the #1 city in Alabama.

Today most people may not be aware or even care about Alabama’s license plate codes, but our Birmingham region is in the process of falling behind.

Last year the City of Birmingham, Jefferson County, and the Metropolitan Birmingham-Hoover area all lost population. Since 2010, Jefferson County grew by 3%. Madison County grew by 21%.

Alabama has used county numbers on its license plates since 1942. Jefferson County is #1, Mobile #2, and Montgomery #3.

All other counties are ranked alphabetically and assigned consecutive numbers beginning with #4 and concluding with #67. Autauga County #4; Winston County #67.

When the City of Birmingham recently slipped from the largest city in the State to 4th, initially I began to worry that Birmingham might lose its #1 code, but then I remembered Alabama tags are not numbered by city—but by county.

I assumed Jefferson, Mobile, and Montgomery Counties were numbered #1, #2, and #3 because they are the three most populated counties in Alabama.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Maybe that was true at one time, but certainly not today.

Here are the seven largest Alabama counties ranked by population as of 2023.

  • Jefferson 679,599
  • Mobile 415,355
  • Madison (Huntsville) 404,155
  • Baldwin 246,617
  • Tuscaloosa 236,750
  • Shelby 231,406
  • Montgomery 228,831

Montgomery is assigned the county code #3 even though it’s the 7th most populated county.

Seems like Madison County (Huntsville) should be code #3 rather than #47.

Maybe the folks in Madison County should feel slighted.

Obviously county population size doesn’t matter for license plate numbers currently.

At some point, however, the state legislature might decide to update tag numbers for the larger cities, but I’m not sure the citizens of Montgomery County would be happy to lose their #3 code to become #51 based on alphabetic placement.

Obviously population size is fluid and can change drastically.

According to the Birmingham Business Journal (BBJ), “While (Birmingham) being about twice metro Huntsville’s size may seem like a comfortable lead, it’s worth noting that the city of Birmingham was twice the size of the city of Huntsville in 1980. In four decades, they passed us.”

In a recent BBJ Power Poll, ‘influential Birmingham leaders’ surveyed felt that “while metro Birmingham currently has a large lead on metro Huntsville in population, only 52% of respondents believe metro Birmingham will still be the state’s largest in 50 years.”

And when these Birmingham leaders were asked to rate their level of concern about Birmingham’s population drop from 1 to 4 on a scale of 1 (not at all concerned) to 5 (very concerned), 43% of respondents chose 4 or 5.

Today, metro Birmingham’s population is about 1.12 million. Metro Huntsville’s population is 514,465 — about half our size.

Birmingham leaders focus on metro population—not city population.

Ty West has it right when he wrote in the BBJ, “If Birmingham leaders want to hang their hats on metro size, there’s a responsibility that comes with that. It’s the responsibility to actually behave like a united region, rather than a collection of competing, independent municipalities.

“It’s a bar we haven’t always hit, but we’ve been hitting it more often in recent years and reaped the rewards from it. 2018 and 2019 were some of our best years of job growth in the past three decades. In the post-pandemic world, we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.

“Maybe it’s all just a coincidence those improved results started around the same time local mayors and elected officials starting collaborating more often and numerous Jefferson County cities signed the Good Neighbor Pledge to stop poaching metro businesses away from one another.

…”Right now, we can hang our hat on our metro’s size and confidently say we’ll be the state’s economic center a largest metro for the foreseeable future.

“But if we want that to be the case 40 years from now, we’ll need to do more than talk about being a united metro. We’ll need to act like it.”

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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16 thoughts on “Is Jefferson County about to lose #1 license plate?”

  1. Well David says Metro Birmingham needs to act like we say we are! I absolutely agree with that statement! Maybe the 33 cities and 13 school systems in Jefferson County are acting like Metro Birmingham? I am just joking please. So is Metro Birmingham just Jefferson County ? Fine with me for real .

  2. I’d like to know why vehicle registrations is so high. It is robbing the citizens. I moved from nashville and was only paying $68 per vehicle in Williamson country a very expensive area. Why has no one trying to change tbis for the better of the people

  3. It is a tax issue my friend.
    Not sure how the tag tax is divided up among the entities in Jefferson County and the State of Alabama? Great question indeed.

  4. It is a tax issue my friend.
    Not sure how the tag tax is divided up among the entities in Jefferson County and the State of Alabama? Great question indeed. I think the make and year of the car matters?

  5. The stupid here is all on the legislature and ALDOT. Why can’t Alabama simply put the name of each county on the tags like most other states? If you’re in Indiana and watching for a car with friends from say, Scottsboro/Jackson County, you’ll probably ignore the passing car with a license number starting with 28. Besides, I see many Alabama tags with license numbers starting with 80, 90, or other numbers higher than 67. It just beats all, doesn’t it?

  6. David, talking about numerical ranking may be fun. But, lets focus on the important issue—the political clout that large populations afford.

    I often wonder what our state would look like if the county legislative delegations (your seven or so) with the largest metropolitan populations worked together. The non-urban legislators bind and work together in the Rural Caucus. What if the legislators representing districts with large metros joined together in a formal Urban Caucus? Might we advance home rule? Might we wrestle some of the power away from Montgomery?

    (I’d be happy if the JeffCo delegation worked together more often.)

    The non-poaching example set in JeffCo could serve as an example of what happens when those with overarching common interests learn to work together.

    Just sayin’…

  7. Until we eliminate the gerrymandering in the Jefferson County Senate and House Delegations no real urban coalition can function! The senate delegation should only have 5 members and the House delegation 16 or 17! All need to live Jefferson County! We can then work with the other counties that want to work with Jefferson,but there seems to be a lot of hate towards the real demographics in Jefferson County?? Just look at how the Attorney General Marshal is appealing the redistricting order by the three judge panel to the United States Supreme Court again? Your tax dollars are both the plaintiffs and defendants out side legal counsel!
    Why all the beef because 2 of the 7 might be Black ? And still be marginalized in the Congress?

  8. I grew up in Washington State and noticed a similar thing there. License plates starting with A were King County, where Seattle is, and those starting with B were Pierce County, south of there. Pierce County was the second most populous county.

    {Incidentally, King County was named after an Alabamian, William Rufus King, who was elected to be president Franklin Pierce’s vice president, though he died before he could serve.)

    C was Spokane County in Eastern Washington. That county had less people than Pierce, but somehow Spokane has always managed to be just slightly bigger than the largest city in Pierce, Tacoma, my home town. I think they must make an effort to expand their boundaries a little bit before each census so they’ll be bigger than Tacoma.

    That ranking of counties goes way back to the 60’s when I was a child. The current rankings are shown in this web page.

  9. While we are on the subject of license plates, I would like to see the Alabama State Legislature ban those wrap-around frames around license plates that make it hard to even see what state the plate is from. There are plenty of other ways people can support their favorite college football teams or give their car dealerships free advertising.

  10. My new tag cost $333‼️ That’s a ripoff I can’t afford. A ridiculous money grab and not much to show for it. The street in front of my house has not been paved in 31 years. Where does the money go?

    1. Great question?
      I think these dollars go to Jefferson County?
      What city is your street on?
      Get in front of the city council and voice your concerns! Sometimes they will respond directly to a citizen with a specific issue! I have seen it work.
      Go for it please.
      George Munchus

  11. At one time, Birmingham was the place to live…….crime has pushed us all out of a “once” loved community. Police Chief Roper tried to get our home back to a safe place to live…’s been a challenge for us all.
    And that is why our cost is so expensive…..someone has to pay…..

    1. There has always been hostility and hate towards Jefferson County and Birmingham by the Confederates in the Legislature! Why is beyond belief! The County and the city are not going anywhere anytime soon .

  12. I understand the hit on our pride from LOSING anything…like football or population or businesses or Air Commands or License Plate rankings
    …. but, to me, the discussion should be about WHY WE LOST! Do our political and business leaders really care that we are being left behind? The brave ones should try to get this losing trend fixed!

    1. Yes I agree. Birmingham is a wonderful place in a lot of ways, but obviously there is hostility to it on the part of a lot of Alabamians. That’s unjustified as far as I’m concerned.

  13. *IF* there must be a shakeup in the license tag numbering system, do it straight top to bottom alpha a-z so we never have to do it again (they’re not making new counties in Alabama last I heard). And while the legislature is at it can they fix the “Saint Clair” (currently county number 59) comes before “Shelby” (currently county number 58) error? It’s been wrong since I was in elementary school, and that was before desegregation, so at least 50 years? Yes, I know it’s because someone back then had abbreviated “Saint” to “St” which would then alphabetize after “Shelby” YET the actual name of the county is “Saint Clair”, not “St Clair.” So fix all the issues at one go and be done with it forever. Or until several counties disappear beneath the rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico in 200 years, forcing a reshuffle of the numbers of the remaining newly redefined “dry counties” whilst striking the names of the now permanently “wet counties.”

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