Tupelo residents support public transit

TUPELO – Nearly 50 people attended a meeting Tuesday evening to rally support for citywide public transportation.
Many of those at the one-hour event said Tupelo needs a subsidized transit system and criticized the City Council for ignoring their plight.
“The only two council members who favor the public transportation system are Nettie Davis and Willie Jennings,” said David Puckett, part of the Tupelo Public Transportation Committee and a blind resident who cannot drive. “I urge the other councilmen to keep an open mind.”
Davis, of Ward 4, and Jennings, of Ward 7, organized the public meeting, which was held at the St. Paul United Methodist Church Life Center on Front Street. Members of the Public Transportation Committee also attended.
The committee was tasked by the city with determining whether Tupelo needs public transit and, if so, how to implement it. A $25,000 study commissioned by the group and released this summer did just that, but most council members found it lacking.
“We don’t know how much the buses would cost, we don’t know what the start up costs are,” said Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis, who attended the meeting and faced heat from residents who blamed him for a lack of support.
Davis denied those claims, saying he simply wants more information before spending city money on a bus system. The one recommended in the study would cost roughly $450,000 annually in operating costs alone.
Others argued that the city spends that much and more on other, less important projects. Many used a proposed $7 million swimming pool as an example.
“It seems like the pool rose to a higher priority than a public transportation system for, quite frankly, the poor people,” said the Rev. Charles Penson of the Lane Chapel CME Church.
A few heated exchanges bounced around the large community room, with its polished hardwood floors, stage and basketball hoops. But Davis and others called for calm and open dialogue.
The Rev. Paul Stephens of All Saints Episcopal Church said the council must corral the discussion back to its original focus – public transportation and how to best provide it.
“There is an existing need in Tupelo,” Stephens said, citing the more than 1,300 people fed by his church last month alone, many of whom walked to get there.
If the city can subsidize the Tupelo Regional Airport, he said, it can subsidize a bus system. The airport received nearly $109,000 from the city during the current fiscal year.
Many in the room agreed with that sentiment, including Faye Jackson, a Park Hill resident who was hit by a car on Green Street last year while walking because she had no other transportation.
Said Jackson: “Imagine that.”
The council hasn’t yet voted on how to handle public transportation. Instead, it recommended funding a $75,000 line item in the city’s fiscal year 2011 budget in case it decides to pursue it.
Public transit supporters, though, say the amount won’t fund the community’s needs.
In the meantime, they urged meeting participants and others to inundate council members with phone calls and e-mails.
“Unless we plug it and plug it and plug it and let them know how much it’s needed,” Puckett said, “they are going to ignore it again and again.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal