By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Even with a stalled engine for a few years now, recent discussions about a public transportation system in Tupelo have ignited hope for residents who have spent years working to make it happen.
With a meeting last week between city officials, advocates and the state Department of Transportation, discussions also turned toward a potential partner for public transit – Northeast Mississippi Community Services, a nonprofit that offered services three years ago for a pilot program but never had the offer accepted.
At the meeting last week, David Puckett listened to Mayor Jason Shelton talk about having family members with conditions that prevent them from driving. State AARP and Mississippi Department of Transportation officials also discussed federal and state funding potential for Tupelo.
Puckett, 55, lost his sight in his 20s due to genetic disease and, with others, has spent years researching the need and potential options for public transportation in Tupelo.
Puckett began holding meetings in 2008 to discuss the transportation need, and then-Mayor Jack Reed Jr. created a transportation committee comprised of Puckett and other volunteers, who produced a transit study for the city in 2010.
When the City Council failed to take action on committee’s ideas, the group seemed to stop moving.
“It was very frustrating,” Puckett said Friday. “I don’t think the last council really embraced a true need for it.”
With two new members on the City Council, transit proponents believe the city may have a change of heart.
Brad Prewitt, an attorney who chaired the committee, said public transportation could benefit elderly and disabled residents but also tourists and others who choose not to drive.
“I think a city that’s All America has to find ways to accommodate its entire population,” Prewitt said. “There’s a need.”
He recommended that the city press forward with a pilot program for public transportation and work with Booneville-based Northeast Mississippi Community Services, which has 40 buses and vans and operates transportation services in six counties – but not Tupelo or Lee County. The nonprofit already receives more than $1 million in federal funding for public transportation and said a few years ago there is a possibility for a partnership with Tupelo.
MDOT projected the city would have to pay roughly $110,100 to start up a service, and that is with federal support.
“I feel like for less money you could put it in place with us and give it a test,” said Northeast Mississippi Community Services’ executive director, Steve Gaines. “Let’s see if it’s something really needed, really wanted.”
The city and the nonprofit will meet in December to explore possible partnerships.