OUR OPINION: Regional transit talks might provide direction

The Mississippi Department of Transportation has planned a “regional dialogue” at The Link Centre in Tupelo on April 22 to discuss “mobility” issues – more precisely defined as various kinds of bus service that might be needed in the area.

The event at the Link Centre Reception Hall, 1800 W. Main St., begins at 10 a.m. and continues in several 90-minute intervals until 6 p.m. The public transit division of Mississippi Department of Transportation will be available 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The target participants include local elected officials, business owners, human service organizations, students and other people who have interest in those transportation/mobility issues.

The session is designed to provide information about regional community/public transportation and give the public a chance to discuss mobility options with MDOT transit professionals. The meeting will not deal with highway or railroad issues.

MDOT’s Kenny Foote said, “The meeting will be centered around a needs assessment of the region through the community’s input. That input will help build visibility of the geographical areas where public transportation can be improved and where MDOT can assist; e.g., helping a transit organization build a new maintenance facility for repairing transit vehicles or bringing transit routes to areas where it was previously unavailable. There are a few examples where meetings such as these have had a huge impact on communities – such as Oxford, Natchez and Choctaw, Miss.”

Foote said funding “is not part of these discussions.”

Several cited programs in the division’s brochure include specialized functions for smaller cities like Tupelo, which has an active working group dealing with bus transit but which has not made concrete recommendations.

The brochure also describes programs that could help older people and those with disabilities.

Other programs cited deal with purchase of equipment, transit management and rural transit.

It also lists an Appalachian Regional Commission program for public transit assistance, but ARC Mississippi executive Mike Armour in Tupelo said he is not familiar with the program.

MDOT is doing its job in scheduling the series of meetings about mobility/transit issues, but the general problem nationwide is that government funds for transit programs don’t stretch far enough or often don’t last long enough.

Finding out about the programs, however, is the only way to access them.