By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Two Mississippi State University representatives presented the plans for three potential bus routes that would service both the university and the city of Starkville during a public meeting last night.
Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Bill Broyles and Director of Parking Operations Mike Harris explained the planned routes, stops and funding for the shuttles, and answered questions and concerns from the public before they apply for the grant that would fund the operation.
Harris said they felt a bus system would be an asset to both the university and city because it would reduce traffic congestion, connect the city and the campus, reduce the need for more campus parking and would provide access to all the major areas and services within the city.
“What we want to do is provide a convenient transportation to serve the community that frankly is going to enhance the quality of life here,” Broyles said.
Harris explained the three main routes the committee working on the project — which is comprised of university and city government officials, students and a number of citizens — had come up with.
The first, a city-campus express, would start at the campus bookstore, go down University Drive with a stop in the Cotton District, go down Main Street with a stop at the old electric building, continue downtown, turn down Washington Street to Lampkin Street to circle back to Main Street by Jackson Street and come back to campus. It would be serviced by one bus that would take approximately 15 minutes to complete the entire route.
“We feel that this would kind of give a connection between the campus and the downtown area for those who may want to go down there and have a little lunch or go shopping during their lunch hour from campus, or maybe those downtown who may want to come to campus to the bookstore or some other areas on campus,” Harris said.
The second route would be a park- and-ride option — people could park at the Starkville Sportsplex and ride the bus along Lynn Lane, South Montgomery Street, over to Black Jack Road and onto campus. This route would also be serviced by one bus.
The third route would be the largest, circling all the way around the city and stopping at several health care facilities, Walmart, Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, several low income neighborhoods and apartment complexes, the post office and various social services. It would be serviced by two buses running in opposite directions with a stop being serviced every 20-25 minutes.
“That way you don’t have to get on one and ride all the way around to get to one area. You can just wait for the next bus going the other direction, get on it and get to that area quicker,” Harris said.
The university will be applying for the grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation in March of 2012. The grant would pay for 50 percent of the operational costs and 80 percent of the capitol costs. The university would have to re-apply for the grant every year, but Harris said he was reassured systems that were functioning well were almost always given the grant again as long as the federal funding was in place.
If the grant is approved, funding would be in place by next fall and the shuttle would be fully operational by January 2013.
Each bus would cost approximately $100,000 and seat 35 people. Many of the stops would have permanent shelters equipped with LED signs that would display the estimated time of arrival of the next bus. Each bus would be fitted with GPS that would update the arrival times every four seconds. Approximate arrival times could also be accessed on a website or a smart phone application.
One audience member pointed out that many of the people who would be utilizing the bus would not have access to internet or a smart phone, but there will be a 1-800 number available to call, enter the bus stop number and find out when the next bus will arrive.
The buses would likely run Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. - 6 p.m., but would not run when the university was closed, like during the winter break.
Bus rides would be free for the first year or so, Harris said, and then they would look into charging a small fee. The committee looked at other towns with similar shuttle systems, like Oxford, for rates. Adults would likely be charged $1 per ride, while students would be charged 75 cents and elderly and disabled riders would be charged 50 cents, with monthly passes available.
Unfortunately, not all of the buses would be accessible for riders with disabilities. Some of the buses will not come equipped with a chair lift, but a driver could send a van to come and pick up the individual, as needed.
One challenge that the committee and city will have to address as far as potential stops is infrastructure problems, such as sidewalks, in making sure the stops are easily accessible.
“I don’t want to get into a ‘chicken and the egg’ situation here, but having better sidewalks system in Starkville would help the shuttle system. But on the other hand, if we have a vibrant shuttle system, does that then put the pressure on us to have a better sidewalk system?” Broyles said. “The answer is: we need to end up with both.”
Harris said the shuttle system still needs a name — something catchy and easy to remember. He invited the public to send him any suggestions, from a name to a potential stop, firstname.lastname@example.org .