Tupelo transit group fizzles

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Public Transportation Committee, which spent a year studying and lobbying for a citywide transit system, has fizzled in the months since municipal leaders rejected its findings.
Although Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said he wants the volunteer-based group to remain intact and continue its work, some members say their job is done.
“The committee doesn’t discern an ongoing role for itself at this juncture, and we’re fine with that,” said Chairman Brad Prewitt. “The information is there. If and when the political will and economic means exist to do something, the city is now in position to go forward more quickly and thoughtfully.”
The five-member group was appointed by Reed in the summer of 2009 to determine the city’s need for public transportation. It also was to recommend options for filling that need, should it exist.
Members quickly began their work, seeking public and professional input. In December 2009, they proposed that the city enter into a contract with a Booneville-based company to provide a two-route bus system for less than $100,000 annually. The council rejected that option.
Then, the group obtained an Appalachian Regional Commission grant and municipal funds totaling $25,000 to hire an independent transit consultant. Neel-Schaffer studied the community’s needs and recommended six options in a final report issued in July.
But the City Council dismissed the recommendations, which averaged a half-million dollars each, as too expensive and shelved the report.
The Public Transportation Committee has not met since that time.
“I think it’s pretty much a dead issue, as much as I hate that,” said member David Puckett, who himself relies on taxi services because of his blindness. “This council, with the exception of a couple, is set against it. That’s the feeling I got.”
Only the council’s two minority members – Nettie Davis of Ward 4 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7 – fully supported exploring the options recommended in the report. Other council members acknowledged a need for public transit but preferred seeking less expensive options.
In September, the council adopted its fiscal year 2011 budget with a $75,000 line item for public transportation. The amount falls well below the committee’s recommended options but could provide seed money for a smaller system.
Committee member Jim Casey said he still holds hope the city won’t let the issue die and that he’d like to be part of the solution.
Reed agreed: “What I hope will happen is after the first of the year we can re-examine some of the alternative ideas, and at that time I’d like to involve the committee again.”
But the mayor also noted the difficulties of running a municipal transit system. He pointed to the city of Jackson, whose own mayor wants to cut funding and services to its embattled JATRAN system.
According to a report in the Clarion-Ledger this week, Jackson pays $4 million annually to keep JATRAN afloat while earning only about $375,000 in bus fares.

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