Opinion: The Birmingham Area Needs Better Public Transportation

A.J. Gallitz

A.J. Gallitz

Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Opinion: The Birmingham Area Needs Better Public Transportation

A nice, shiny mass transit system. Too bad it's not in Birmingham. It's in Washington, D.C. Photo by A.J. Galiitz.

Over spring break, I went on a trip to Washington, D.C. I got to see lots of cool things including the White House, the Capitol, and several very large monuments. What I found most impressive, however, was the city’s public transportation system.  

In Washington, D.C., everybody takes the Metro (the city’s partially underground subway system) to work. Very few people compared to the overall population in that area drive cars. In fact, it is very expensive to drive a car in D.C. Parking is expensive everywhere, and so are parking decks in apartment buildings.  

On the Metro every morning, I noticed people dressed for all different types of jobs. There were lots of people in full suits with briefcases. There were people in waitress uniforms. People brought their bikes on the Metro. Their public transportation system seems to be for everybody.  

The Birmingham metro area, unlike D.C., has very lackluster public transportation. While most states in the US fund public transportation, Alabama, depending on the year, is either one of very few or the only one that does not.   

In 1972, local leaders created the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA). According to the group's website, its Max Transit buses cover more than 200 square miles and they have a “demand population base of 400,000 people."

While these seem like large numbers, the Birmingham Metro area takes up approximately 4,500 square miles, much larger than the 200 square miles that the bus routes serve, and includes more than a million people. 

According to Inside Public News, Alabama has the highest gasoline consumption per-person in the nation.  

Basically, you either need to live within walking distance of the places you go -- very rare in Alabama -- or you need to own a car. Transportation systems in our area are almost entirely built around cars, which places a heavy load on citizens. Cars are expensive to finance, maintain, fuel, and insure, not to mention that the number of cars transporting people in the Birmingham area is bad for the environment.  

The federal or local money allotted to transportation in Alabama is almost all for maintaining current infrastructure -- filling potholes, widening roads, rebuilding interstates. While those things are all important, imagine if some or most of that money went towards expanding our public transportation system.  

If fewer cars were on the roads, there would be less damage to the roads, and their upkeep would be less expensive. If people spent less money on purchasing and upkeep on cars, they would have more money to spend supporting the economy in other ways.  

For example, if people had more money to spend at stores, more stores would be able to remain open and/or pay more employees. Also, it would create more tax revenue for local, state, and federal governments (which could, in turn, help support upkeep to public transportation).  

If we had improved public transportation, citizens would have far better and more diverse employment opportunities. It is nearly impossible to keep a job without a car in our area. It is also nearly impossible to acquire a car without a job. It is a vicious cycle that preys on people who can’t afford cars, are disabled, or are unable to drive for some other reason.  

Public transportation is vital for life in a city. It supports the economy. It creates jobs. It is positive for the general welfare, and to have a state that does not fund something that seems so basic is disheartening. 

I hope that one day, the area we live in will develop a public transportation system that is robust, that everyone can benefit from equally, and that lightens the financial and environmental load of everyone depending on cars.  

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