Public transit OK'd by Tupelo group

TUPELO – The City Council now will decide the fate of a 46-page report recommending Tupelo have some form of public transit system, despite the hefty costs associated with it.
The report, delivered earlier this month, was unanimously adopted Thursday by members of the municipal Public Transportation Committee.
They had the support of Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and several residents who appeared at the meeting to speak in favor of subsidized transit.
“I don’t expect a miracle, but I’d like to see a bus system in Tupelo,” said Vera Whitlock, an 82-year-old east Tupelo woman whose adult daughters are blind and rely on their mother for rides.
Whitlock said she’s not always able to shuttle her daughters to and from work. When they take a taxi, it costs them $80 a week, she told the committee.
Neel-Schaffer and Bourne Transit Consulting prepared the report for $25,000. They established that a need for public transportation exists in the city, and they proposed six options for implementing it.
Those options range in price from $337,500 a year for a pilot program to $677,750 a year for a fully functioning paratransit system. Depending on the system, it’d carry anywhere from about 50,000 to 100,000 riders annually.
Council members previously have worried about cost, especially until the sluggish economy improves. But committee Chairman Brad Prewitt countered that the economy also has hurt citizens, especially those without vehicles. Now is the time to act, he said.
Reed also said cost shouldn’t totally inhibit the council from moving forward with public transportation, something Tupelo has lacked since 2005.
“I think a city’s budget should reflect its values, not just dollars and cents,” Reed said. “Great cities have public transportation, and I want Tupelo to be a great city.”
Other cities in Mississippi with bus systems are Vicksburg, Natchez, Meridian and Jackson.
Also in support is City Planner Pat Falkner, who said a municipal bus system will become increasingly important in the future as Tupelo moves toward alternative transportation.
The decision, however, lies solely in the council’s hands and it’s unclear what that seven-member group will do. Public transit supporters vowed to inundate the elected officials with calls.
“We’re going to beat the bushes … to get the community to call the council,” said committee member Ora Baldwin.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Public Transportation Committee and its consultants will present its report on public transit to the council at 4 p.m. July 27 at City Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal