Councilors Steven Hoyt, Carole Smitherman, Valerie Abbott and Carol Duncan said that the council passed the mayor's proposal too quickly, without having real budget numbers or the consent of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority board.
"We rushed to make a decision without the information, and now we have a problem," said Councilor Valerie Abbott. "I think we may have acted somewhat in haste. I voted for it, and I'm willing to take my knocks for it."
BJCTA Director David Hill said Wednesday that the BJCTA could not begin the program unless Birmingham provided the transit sysem with at least some of the money up front.
Councilors referred to the Mayor's plan as the "3 a.m. plan," because the Mayor said he woke up the morning before the April 22 Council meeting with the idea to give Birmingham bus riders free rides all summer.
"Council, we have erred, this should never have happened," said Council President Carole Smitherman.
Six councilors were present at the meeting Wednesday(Roderick Royal, Miriam Witherspoon, and William Bell were absent), but open meetings law did not allow a vote on any issue. Mayor Langford was present at the beginning of the meeting and BJCTA Director David Hill attended as well.
The estimated $800,000 needed for the program would come from $9 million raised in business license fees that the BJCTA plans to spend on new buses. As Birmingham Weekly reported, Mayor Langford had initially promised Hill $17 million for transit, but that number was later changed to $9 million, though Hill did not notice until months later.
"What is the highest and best use for the $800,000 '97 to offer free rides or repair the buses?" Smitherman asked the transit director.
"Well, obviously it's to repair the buses," answered Hill.
Most councilors seemed reluctant to support the Mayor's program, even if communication issues are cleared up. Smitherman said more citizens had called her office in opposition to the Mayor's plan than in support of it. Councilor Hoyt argued that the $800,000 free summer rides program is the equivalent of giving a bus away.
"We could have a bus with this money, and that's been the chief complaint-that busses are breaking down-so how can we give something away when we ought to be buying a bus?" he said.
Councilor Joel Montgomery suggested that the Council approve funds for one month of free rides at next week's City Council meeting, allowing the BJCTA to begin the free ride system on May 10. Montgomery supported the "3 a.m. plan" last week with the provision that the Council be provided with proper documentation from the Mayor's office and the BJCTA.
It is not clear when the Council will vote on funding the Mayor's plan or rescinding their resolution in support of it. Smitherman suggested another special meeting to vote on the plan, but action may be delayed until next Tuesday's City Council meeting. Until then, riders of Birmingham public transit will pay the standard rate.