Council approves contract for on-demand public transportation service
PRESS RELEASE Tuesday, September 24, 2019
Contact: Cody Owens
A new on-demand public transportation pilot program (also known as microtransit) was approved by the Birmingham City Council on Tuesday.
The company that was awarded the contract, River North Transit LLC (otherwise known as Via) is a multinational company that operates in over 60 cities. The service will be an additional option for transportation within the limits of the pilot program boundaries, which includes as far West as the CrossPlex and extends downtown, with access to hospitals and grocery stores. If the six-month pilot program is successful, the company will look to expand the boundaries throughout the city to accommodate more riders.
In order to ride, there will be a flat fee of $1.50 per rider, each way. Once the program launches later this year, there will be several options available for residents to order a ride that, on average, will pick them up within 15 minutes — people will be able to download the Via app, they can call a 1–800 number or also order a ride online. The company will operate four to six branded Mercedes Metris vans that will transport riders to their destinations.
Also worth noting, the rides will be shared and the vans will be able to accommodate up to six passengers at a time. At least one of the vans will be wheelchair accessible. In order to accommodate those who are unbanked, the company will accept temporary debit cards. However, they will not accept cash.
The City of Birmingham has allocated $250,000 for the pilot program and has partnered with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham that will be contributing up to $502,000 in funding.
Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, who chairs the Transportation Committee, believes this program will be a game-changer for residents who lack reliable transportation in Birmingham.
“First and foremost I want people to know this is a service that is meant to be complimentary to the public transportation system that we already have here,” O’Quinn said. “Having a lack of public transportation options available to our residents is one of the biggest issues we face in this city. We’re going to continue to find solutions to address these needs. Having this service available will be crucial to help the approximately 13 percent of our population that does not have access to a vehicle. We’re going to keep bringing forward additional options to help fill that need.”
Councilor John Hilliard has been a big proponent for additional transportation options in Birmingham. “We’re not sitting here trying to replace the BJCTA or anything like that. This is just another option for people who need a cheap, reliable way to get to doctors appointments or to go buy groceries,” Hilliard said. “I see they have transportation like this in other cities. We’re thinking down the road. It’s always good to have choices. It’s our fiduciary responsibility to provide the best transportation opportunities to our citizens. I can’t wait until this pilot program is a success and expands to my district.”
The neighborhoods that will be serviced by the pilot program include: Smithfield, Graymont, College Hills, Bush Hills, Rising West Princeton, East Thomas, Fairview, Downtown and portions of Southside. The plan is to expand the program after the 6-month pilot program. Via will serve riders Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The service area covers 6.7 square miles.
More information regarding this program will be made available in the coming weeks.