Mobile Can Learn From Birmingham

very rarely does the city of Mobile ever get the chance to say they can get the opportunity to learn how to do something from the city of Birmingham. Usually the city of Birmingham is showing us and the rest of the state how not to do something. Mayor Randall Woodfin is quickly showing the state and the rest of the world that Birmingham has evolved and this is the new Birmingham. Under his administration, Birmingham has fostered and promoted technology startups that have gone on to Garner statewide, regional, and in some cases national and international attention and recognition. He is even spearheaded and led economic development efforts and efforts to improve educational opportunities for the citizens of Birmingham. But the one thing that the mayor of Birmingham is doing right now that Mobile needs to watch, learn more about, and possibly adapt It for its own uses is the development and implementation of a micro transit public transportation system in the city of Birmingham.

Recently, the city of Birmingham announced a pilot program with the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and a ride-sharing technology company called Via to implement this new micro Transit program in the city of Birmingham. The way it works is a customer downloads an app on their phone or calls a phone number to request a ride to a location within a certain designated zone. The ride sharing program dispatchs a passenger van to pick up that passenger and take them to that location. That could be anything from a grocery store, a doctor’s office, a government building, anything within that designated zone.because the city and the community foundation are subsidizing this pilot program to the tune of over $750,000, passengers that utilize this new program can do so for the cost of a $1.50 per fare.

This point to point focus in public transit isn’t something new, as this same company is partnering with other cities in the United States, like Chicago and Washington DC, and around the world. Mobile could certainly look into how other cities like Chicago and European cities are implementing this technology and incorporating it into their mass transit systems.

Mobile has always been known as a big city with a small town Southern charm to it. Using technology and outside the box thinking develop a public transit system that is focused on point to point transportation, customer service oriented, with a friendly small town feel can go a long way and help Mobile live up to that reputation. If the system is implemented right and organized and planned correctly, a micro transit focused public transit system could actually reduce the costs of public transportation in the city, while improving customer service and possibly even increasing revenue.

It could reduce the cost of the current structureof the bus system in the city of Mobile, the Wave Transit System, by greatly reducing the reliance on fixed route fixed schedule buses. If it doesn’t eliminate the need for the buses, you could turn the fixed route bus system into a limited ‘Express bus line’ that only stops at pre-determined ‘Transit zone connection points’. for example, if you’re trying to get from downtown Mobile to the Mobile Regional Airport, you could call for a micro Transit ride from wherever you are downtown, to the GMO transportation hub, where you would connect with an express bus to the regional airport out in West Mobile. It would improve customer service because instead of having buses that seat 40 to 60 people at one time, you would have passenger vans that seat 15 to 20. On top of that it improves customer service because it’s offering point to point transportation service and people are usually happier, and more satisfied when you can drop them off right at the front door of wherever they’re going. 

It also could increase revenue by increasing usership of the transportation system. One of the drawbacks to any public mass transit system is it inability to offer point to point transportation reliably efficiently and profitably. The church that I attend, the grocery store I shop at, my doctor’s office, my veterinarian office, and other services that I frequent, like my dry cleaners and restaurants that I frequent, all within a 3 to 5 mile radius of my home. I currently do not utilize public transit to run personal errands to those locations, because I would have to walk half a mile to the bus stop, and do it on a predetermined schedule that doesn’t usually work for me. I would seriously consider using a public microtransit system to take care of those weekly errands as I own a delivery company, and try to drive the least amount possible when not getting paid to do so.

Mobile was the first city in the state of Alabama to really embrace Uber and Lyft when they came calling instead of fighting them tooth and nail. That is because the leadership in this city saw the value of ride-sharing companies to improve transportation options for it citizens and the value that it added to the local economy. Just because Birmingham was the first city in the state to embrace this ride-sharing technology and company for public transit, doesn’t make it a bad idea and doesn’t mean other cities like Mobile shouldn’t study it and if they think it can work for them implement it into their public transit system for the benefit of everyone.

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