Birmingham transit has a new leader

By Arielle Clay

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority picked Wednesday a new day-to-day leader to help the financially-troubled authority overcome its problems.

Peter Behrman was selected during Wednesday's meeting.  He replaces William Copling who led the authority as interim director for more than a year.

"I thought he (Copling) was the person who should have received the job permanently," said board member Ron Lyas. "He's served us quite well."

But when it came time to vote, the majority of the BJCTA wanted someone new.

"There was a motion today for a couple of candidates. The candidate receiving a majority of the vote was Mr. Peter Behrman," the board's chairman, Guin Robinson, said.

Robinson said he voted no to Copling because his qualifications didn't match Behrman's.  

The new director said he can't wait to come to Birmingham.

"I'm extremely happy," Behrman said. "I think it's a wonderful opportunity."

Behrman has worked in transportation across the country for more than 20 years.  Most recently he worked in Pittsburgh as Assistant General Manager for Planning and Development.  But, it's his first job in transportation that Behrman believes will make him a better boss.

"It's not like, 'Gee, Pete it's not like you know what you're talking about. You sat behind a desk your whole lives.'  I can say, 'No, I did what you're doing,'" Behrman said.

Behrman realizes he faces challenges in Birmingham and points to financial troubles as the biggest one.  His focus will be on increasing revenue possible by raising fares.

"What you have to do is look at the whole way the fairs are done and say are there areas where we can raise money that won't hurt people too much," Behrman said. "You have to be very careful how you look at that but you have to at least look at it."

He also suggested applying for grants as another way to raise revenue.  

A start date for Behrman has not been set yet.

With the selection of the new director, the board completed one of three requirements Mayor William Bell made for the Authority in exchange for additional funding from the city. The other two things Mayor Bell required the authority to do by the end of 2010 is pay down its $200,000 debt and have a blue ribbon board audit the system.  Wednesday, the board announced the debt will be paid off in June and an audit will come in May.

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