Public transit re-emerges as Tupelo topic

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Spurred by AARP Mississippi, public transportation advocates will renew an attempt to bring mass transit to Tupelo.
More than two dozen supporters Tuesday vowed to lobby friends, neighbors and local leaders to fund a citywide – and potentially a regional – public transportation system. They made the commitment during a 90-minute, AARP-sponsored meeting at the Lee County Library.
“This is an issue that affects everyone,” said Ivory L. Craig, AARP associate state director of community outreach.
Although earlier public transit talks focused mainly on bus service, Craig said AARP promotes a broader scope of options that could include subsidized taxi service, 15-passenger vans and use of existing resources like church buses.
But convincing elected officials to fund a public transportation system might prove difficult. The Tupelo City Council in 2010 rejected recommendations for bus service by a volunteer committee it appointed the previous year to study the issue. Since then, few council members have mentioned the subject.
Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings, however, has remained vocal. Jennings, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said he needs one more vote among his colleagues to pass the issue.
The seven-member council requires at least four votes to approve measures. Jennings and Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis have consistently supported city-subsidized public transportation. Others have been less committed or mostly opposed due to funding concerns.
During the meeting, Jennings counted Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis among the supporters. When contacted later by the Daily Journal, though, Davis said he was undecided.
Others at the gathering said Tupelo could rely on state and federal subsidies to pay for a transit system and said such services would benefit the community.
Carol Conyers, director of the Reach Center for the Blind, said she could hire more people to work if they had affordable, reliable transportation. Resident George Gladney said more people would go to the mall to shop.
And most said public transit will become increasingly important to all people as they age and struggle with driving, especially with the first wave of baby boomers now reaching retirement age.
“We need to be able to age with dignity and have the necessary services of life,” said Jo Wilson-Bradley, who just ended a six-year term on AARP’s National Policy Council.
The group will have another meeting, but no date has been announced.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com