Itawamba Countywide public transportation off to a slow start

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

Itawamba County’s public transportation system is up and running, though most people probably don’t know that yet.

Early last month, a small van from Northeast Mississippi Community Services began making the rounds in Itawamba County. For a small fee, residents can be picked up and delivered to just about anywhere in the county.

Driver Julia Barnes said most of her passengers have, so far, been senior citizens in need of a quick ride to the store or an appointment.

“It’s mostly older people going to the grocery store or doctor’s office. Or sometimes, they just want out of the house,” she said.

The cost to ride depends on a passenger’s location, age and where exactly he or she needs to go. For trips inside the city of Fulton, a regular round trip from pickup, drop off and back would cost $5 or $3 for a senior citizen or disabled passenger. For round trips outside of Fulton but still within the county, the cost is $10 per passenger, or $6 for senior citizens and handicapped individuals.

For those who want to travel outside the county, a round trip costs $20. Passengers can also head out of state, but will need to contact Barnes for the cost to do so.

Just like any appointment, transportation should be scheduled a few days in advance to ensure there are no conflicts. Barnes said she is willing to work around the schedules of people who need regular transportation as well.

So far, those who have used the service have seemed to like it, Barnes said. Feedback has been good, and she’s had at least one passenger who’s used the service multiple times.

But it’s been slow going so far. Barnes said she usually has a pick up or two every other day or so, but would love to see the service utilized more.

She thinks it’s only a matter of time. The signs are all there, she said.

“It was a little slow during the week of Christmas, but it’s starting to speed up again,” Barnes said. “I think most people just don’t know it’s here. I’ve had quite a few calls from people lately who have just heard about it.”

So far, most of her travels have been inside the city limits of Fulton.

Talk of bringing a public transportation system to Itawamba County began in mid-2012 during the MSU-Extension Service’s “Smart Aging, Healthy Futures” program. When trying to develop some ways to make life easier for elderly people in Itawamba County, Brian Quinn, manager of Complete Home Health Care in Fulton, was drawn to the idea of a way to help elderly people get around.

Quinn and a group of about 11 other people worked to bring the service to Itawamba County. Local supervisors included the $1,200 monthly cost — or, around $14,400 per year — of providing the service into this year’s budget. This cost may, eventually, decrease if enough people begin using the service on a regular basis.

If the program sees enough support, it will likely stick around.

“We hope for it to be a perpetual service,” Quinn said.

If it proves successful, the goal is to eventually add a second bus. That’s down the line, though.

“Right now, we’re just kind of in wait and see mode,” he said.

For more information on the service or to schedule a trip, contact Barnes at 662-397-2087.

adam.armour@journalinc.com