By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Oxford-University Transit’s ridership in August was up more than 71 percent over the same month a year earlier.
Last month, 54,781 passengers rode on the four-year-old system, compared to 31,958 in August 2011, and nearly tying OUT’s all-time record of 55,428 passengers in September 2011. The University of Mississippi, whose students, staff and faculty ride free, accounted for more than 93 percent of the boardings.
“It’s really taking off,” said OUT manager Ron Biggs. “We’re back to students riding.”
Month-to-month variations in rider numbers can be huge, based largely on the university calendar. In June and July, fewer than 17,000 people boarded each month, but August’s numbers defied the fact that regular classes did not begin at Ole Miss until Aug. 20.
An experimental lunchtime route between the Lyceum and the Square gives university employees and students a chance to have lunch or do business downtown without the bother of parking at either end of the trip. The shuttle has drawn underwhelming response so far – just 505 passengers in August – but will be given the full fall semester to see if it eventually builds a larger ridership.
“People are using it – not as much as I’d like to see, but I think it’ll catch on more with time,” Biggs said.
Two new short-haul routes drew nearly 12,000 riders in August, shuttling motorists from parking lots at the south and north ends of the Ole Miss campus to drop-offs near its center.
Board member and University Attorney Donna Gurley said the transit partnership between Ole Miss and the city of Oxford has proven more successful than even its early champions anticipated.
“To me, this has been a very healthy relationship,” she said. “To all of us who were there when we birthed this baby … it’s been mind-boggling to see how it’s grown.”