EDITORIAL: Tupelo transit

By NEMS Daily Journal

The dormant status of Tupelo’s Public Transportation Committee is the direct result of work well executed but not adopted for cost reasons by the City Council – a reasonable decision on one hand and a potential dead end on the other.
Councilman Jim Newell of Ward 3 said this week he hopes some kind of implemented system can be worked out, a view shared by Mayor Jack Reed, Jr., and two consistently strongly supportive council members, Nettie Davis of Ward 4 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7. Committee Chairman Brad Prewitt sees no additional role for the committee without a change in “political will” – a reasonable conclusion.
A different scenario has unfolded with Oxford’s so-far-successful OUT (Oxford-University Transit) system:
- Ridership, driven by population density and heavy use by students and faculty of the University of Mississippi, has risen from 15,788 monthly in the spring semester of 2010 to a monthly average of 41,788 in the fall semester 2010.
- Shelters have been placed – and more are planned – along the route to keep waiting passengers dry.
- A bus-locating GPS system is planned so that riders will know via computers and smart-phones when the next stop will be made along the routes.
Backing the numerical success is a subsidy that pays for university students, faculty and staff to ride the system, offsetting traffic congestion that competes for scarce, inconvenient and costly parking on the Ole Miss campus (and Oxford generally). A city subsidy to offset annual operating costs supports the system from the other side of the partnership. A few thousand riders regularly pay a small sum for tickets. The system this year has a $1.083 million budget.
Accepting the necessity of and developing a reliable source of subsidies for OUT may be the main difference between Oxford’s success and Tupelo’s inaction, so far.
Tupelo also faces serving a non-compact, sprawling city without the same kind of population densities making Oxford’s approach plausible and successful. Tupelo’s budget for 2012, which is in effect, contains $75,000 for public transit, a far cry from the $500,000 that would have been required with the substantial systems put forward by the study committee. A less expensive option also was turned down.
The study committee did the work requested. Tupelo chose not to accept any of its recommendations. If expected to return, the volunteer transportation committee reasonably needs some assurance that its work won’t be discarded. Internal conversions are needed on the City Council before another round begins.