Birmingham mayor promises financial help for transit

By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham Mayor William Bell promised financial help Monday to keep the county transit authority from cutting services.

The Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority met Monday to discuss route cuts and budget cuts needed to keep the system running. When the meeting began, the board said it may need to cut 15 routes to cut $1.4 million from its budget. The cuts would have affected almost 700,000 riders per year.

However, Mayor Bell's chief of staff, Chuck Faush, then told the board the mayor would help.

"Mayor Bell is committed to finding funding to prevent the cuts," Faush said.

Guin Robinson, chairman of the BJCTA Board of Directors, said he accepted the mayor's commitment. He said without an almost $11 million commitment from the city, the board will have to make the cuts.

"The funding basically goes to buses and drivers and for the personnel and what not," Robinson said.  "We have little choice when we make cuts. Ultimately those cuts have to routes."

The BJCTA runs into funding problems on a regular basis and has threatened to cut service in the past without additional funding. Faush said Mayor Bell wants to end the problem.

"The mayor is tired of hearing that message," Faush said. "He promised he would try to find something, a way to shore it up."

Birmingham City Councilwoman Kim Rafferty, who heads the council's transportation committee, promised to find the funds but said the long-range answer is state funding.

"At least 47 states in the union fund the operational cost of the transit system," Rafferty said.

Rafferty said a push will be made on the state legislature next year.

The board said it will continue to look at other ways to cut its budget, including plans to require employees to pay more for benefits, no salary increases and no future hires.

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