EDITORIAL: Tupelo transit

The special Public Transportation Committee appointed by Mayor Reed and approved earlier by the City Council is moving aggressively to determine the feasibility and possibility of starting a bus transit service in the city.
Committee Chairman Brad Prewitt said last week it might be possible to have a transit system operating in 2010 if all the pieces fall into place: planning, approval, funding and implementation.
We applaud the immediacy and intentionality in the committee’s work.
It has met twice, consulted with one expert who helped Oxford design its so-far successful bus transit system, and apparently has won informal approval from a majority of the City Council to hire consultants who would produce a timely study outlining Tupelo’ best options.
The study would cost $25,000 under the plan supported by the committee, and some of it could be provided by grant funds. Prewitt, who is an attorney and a lobbyist, has started working to find sources.
The study, as envisioned, would take about a month and identify potential ridership, start-up and operating costs, revenue sources, operation styles and equipment needs.
The former council created the committee in June before the new administration was sworn into office in early July.
A vote in mid-September seems probable.
Prewitt, who once worked for Sen. Thad Cochran in Washington, said the federal funding for transit systems has increased in recent years, and Tupelo should move quickly to try to establish its eligibility.
The Transit Cooperative Research Program of the Federal Transit Authority invests most of its energy on high ridership systems, but its general criteria would apply to any innovative, visionary community.
Strong ridership, report 111 of the program says, “supports a wide variety of public policy goals, including energy conservation; air-quality improvement; congestion relief; mobility for transportation disadvantaged groups; and promotion of livable communities, economic development, and sustained growth initiatives.”
Those goals are parallels of Tupelo’s broad city policies and many private-sector initiatives in place for decades.
The report’s foreword also says transit agencies across the nation have had success in increasing ridership “through innovative use of improvements, marketing techniques, fare policy and technology initiatives, and partnerships with other entities.”
Those standards have been articulated at least in part in the committee’s and the council’s work toward a sustainable system for Tupelo.
Oxford’s successful system, started in 2008, plays to the obvious strength in population densities related to the University of Mississippi’s students and staff, the city’s busy central business district, its compactness, and its no-cost policy – which could change as expenses rise.
The Oxford system is subsidized by government sources and the university because it is clearly to the advantage of the city and Ole Miss to bring people where they need to go without increasing vehicle congestion.
Some, perhaps many, of Tupelo’s factors will differ from Oxford’s. However, a daytime-to-early evening system that plays into the number of people working in Tupelo, which far exceeds the city’s population during the work week, plus routes serving residents most at need and most likely to ride, could prove to be a popular, sustainable service and a major convenience.
There’s no reason to speculate about fares and routes. It’s safe to say decisions based on facts and not wishes will have a better chance of success.
Some past transportation issues in Tupelo have been helped by designation as federal demonstration projects, including substantial funding, and the committee should not hesitate to explore those possibilities with Sens. Cochran and Roger Wicker, a Tupeloan, and U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, who represents the 1st District and lives in Prentiss County.
Tupelo should never go half-throttle when its leadership decides to pursue a goal. If the facts support the investment, go for a transit system.

NEMS Daily Journal