By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Early on, Oxford-University Transit had a lot of empty seats. Now the problem is just the opposite.
“We’ve gone in four years from nobody wanted to ride the bus to now everybody wants to ride the bus,” Jim Windham said Wednesday to fellow Transit Commission members.
OUT outstripped even optimistic rider estimates when it carried 255,977 passengers in 2010. Thus far this year it has carried 204,058, and fall semester is historically OUT’s busiest season.
“We’ll be well over half a million riders this year,” said Ron Biggs, the system’s manager.
Service began in 2008 with four buses on two north-south and east-west routes. It has proven increasingly valuable as a commuter service to the University of Mississippi. This fall, the system will run 13 buses on eight routes, seven of which traverse Ole Miss and two of which are intra-campus only.
Isaac Astill, director of parking and transportation at Ole Miss, said bus service will become even more important as parking spaces are lost to development in the heart of campus.
“We want to promote to the commuters and students the convenience of riding O-U Transit,” he said.
A request from residents at the western edge of Oxford illustrated just how popular bus commutes have become. Residents of the Woodlawn neighborhood have asked for a bus stop on West Oxford Loop.
“There’s so much activity out there,” Mayor Pat Patterson said. “We had a meeting with the Woodlawn people (Tuesday) night, and that was way up on their list.” Not only does the neighborhood have nearly 200 single-family homes, but several hundred student residences are already in the area or in various stages of planning or construction.
Biggs said timing is already tight on the route, requiring an additional bus and driver to make up the time.
“The main cost is operational,” City Planner Tim Akers said. “It’s a little more complicated than saying ‘We’re going to put a bus stop there.’ The budget for the next year was submitted in February.”
“We don’t want to say no, and we don’t want to say yes,” Windham said. “When we meet again in 30 days, we may have a better idea of what it’ll cost.”
He also suggested that even if West Oxford Loop can’t be served this fall, burgeoning apartment numbers might soon justify a route that would incorporate both West Oxford Loop and Old Sardis Road.