Engines hissed and triumphant music played as members of the Ramsey High School band welcomed six new buses to the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority’s (BJCTA) fleet during a press conference on March 24.
Costing 25 cents to ride, these new buses are part of the BJCTA’s new Magic City Connector project and reflect an update to what was formerly the north/south DART route. The Connector route runs along 20th Street — traveling from the Uptown District to Southside — and connects riders to routes that run by many of Birmingham’s main attractions, including the Birmingham Zoo, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Vulcan Park and the McWane Science Center.
Each bus is wrapped in bold colors and features Coca-Cola advertisements on each side. This branding is the result of a new partnership between the BJCTA and Coca-Cola Bottling Company United.
The BJCTA applied for the Intown Partnership Project (ITP) grant which, once approved, allowed them to purchase the new buses, which are 40 feet long and cost $492,000 each.
“The FTA grant was about to lapse, and we proceeded to execute the purchase of the buses in late 2016,” said Executive Director Barbara Murdock of the BJCTA. “About that same time we started talks with Coca-Cola about a long-term branding partnership and suggested working together on the ITP.
“They agreed to pay for the wrapped buses as a start to a long-term agreement,” Murdock said. More terms to the agreement are planned to be announced later this summer, once details for the next project are complete. “When Coca-Cola saw the route, they realized it served city attractions that they support… and designed the wrap to reflect those attractions,” she said.
“With a transit system working to expand and in search of revenue, these types of partnerships will help grow the system,” Murdock added. “Here we have the federal government paying for the vehicles, the city of Birmingham paying for the route, and a private entity contributing as well. [This] type of partnerships will pave the way toward more exciting efforts for all agencies. This also raises the standards for offering the community safe, reliable, and convenient public transportation.”
As for the updated route itself, the transit authority conducted surveys to figure out where community members most wanted the buses to go.
“The revamped north/south DART route was the result of our planners making sure that the buses go to the areas our customers say they need the most,” said Murdock.
The new buses mark the beginning of what the transit authority is calling Roadmap 2021, an initiative intended to renovate public transportation for the community.The program is expected to include a new map design, a bus rapid transit system, and a new maintenance facility.
Birmingham City Council President Johnathan Austin touched on these future goals during the press conference, speaking about what he sees for the future of Birmingham’s transportation system. He explained that he wants to be able to shut down vehicular traffic on 20th Street South and use that road strictly for buses.
He likened this to a system in Denver, Colorado called the MallRide Fleet. The fleet in Denver hosts a free shuttle bus service along downtown’s 16th Street and connects passengers to main activities such as shopping, the Arts Complex and Theatre District, the Historic District, hotels, and other city attractions.
Austin said the Magic City Connector is the first step in Birmingham modeling their bus system after Denver’s, and the first step in Roadmap 2021.