Bus plan in Tupelo has big fees

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A citywide public transportation system will cost Tupelo roughly a half-million dollars annually and provide anywhere from about 50,000 to 100,000 rides, according to a report issued this month by hired consultants for the city.
Neel-Schaffer and Bourne Transit Consulting have proposed six options for Tupelo, which has lacked a public bus system since 2005.
The options range in price from $337,500 a year for a pilot program to $677,750 a year for a fully functioning paratransit system.
The prices represent only the city’s portion; additional funding would come from state and federal sources and rider fees.
But Brad Prewitt, chairman of the city Public Transportation Committee, cautions that the numbers are just projections and the city might find better deals with some effort.
Prewitt and the rest of the committee will meet at 10 a.m. today at City Hall to discuss and adopt the report. They’ll then present it to the City Council, which has final say on which option to choose – if it chooses one at all.
“Speaking for myself, I will have to be convinced,” council President Fred Pitts told the Daily Journal on Wednesday. “If it’s something we need to do … I hope we can do it affordably, because it’s not the best time to be doing something like that.”
The report is a 46-page document laying out the process of evaluating options, descriptions and maps of potential routes, interviews with Tupelo residents and comments from officials in other communities with transit systems.
It also includes cost and revenue calculations under various scenarios, and summaries of other transit services in similar cities within the region.
Among the options outlined in the report are a paratransit system, a fixed-route system and a flex-route system.
Paratransit is like a subsidized taxi service for the elderly and handicapped. It’s the most expensive at $1.4 million annually, of which the city would pay $677,750.
Fixed-route is a regular bus system that also includes a separate paratransit program. It would cost $989,300, of which the city would pay $463,200.
Flex-route is a regular bus system that deviates from its set route for door-to-door service for the elderly and handicapped. It would cost about $1 million, with the city paying $486,400.
According to the study, the least expensive system would attract the most riders. Fixed-route would provide an estimated 108,000 rides annually by the second year compared to 66,600 for flex-route and 86,500 for paratransit.
Residents and community stakeholders interviewed by the consultants generally agreed public transit in Tupelo is a necessity.
“There is a need for this,” Prewitt said. “We’re not talking about a luxury item, we’re talking about a basic necessity of life.”
Tupelo’s fixed-route ridership projections far exceed those realized by Meridian, Natchez and Vicksburg, all of which offer fixed-route systems. Meridian, whose population nearly mirrors Tupelo’s, ferries about 19,000 riders annually.
The less-populated Natchez and Vicksburg systems haul about 51,500 and 57,800 people a year, respectively.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Public meeting today:
Tupelo’s Public Transportation Committee will meet at 10 a.m. today at City Hall to discuss plans for a bus system. It’s open to everyone.