January 2013 is the new target date to get public busing up and running in Starkville.
A committee of 10 officials from Starkville and Mississippi State University has been assembled with the collective goal of reviving a public transit system to serve the city and the university.
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas, who also works at MSU and sits on the committee, said Friday the committee is in the process of collecting data for a grant application which will be submitted to the Mississippi Department of Transportation in March of next year. If the grant is awarded, Starkville and MSU will have to provide 20 percent in matching funds, which could cost as much as $300,000.
“It”s not cheap. When you look at the price of buses, that will be the hardest part,” said Dumas. “Even though we”d only be responsible for 20 percent, it”s still a pretty good hit to the university and the city to make it work.”
Dumas expects the grant award to be announced during the summer of 2012 and the funds to be distributed in the fall. He believes Starkville”s chances of being awarded the grant are strong because the city has experience with a busing system that ran five years ago.
However, the proposed busing system will be drastically different than the past system. Passage on the old system was free and riders could flag the buses down and board at any point along the route. The new system will implement a to-be-determined fare and establish sheltered bus stops along the routes.
As the committee works on the details of its grant application, it will determine how many buses to use and how many routes to establish. Dumas said one plan calls for seven buses covering five routes, but that”s merely an example at this point and the final product will be determined by the funding.
The committee will visit Oxford July 18 to study the busing system shared by the city and the University of Mississippi.
“We”ll look at their fee structure. What their shelters look like. Where the stops are. We hope we can learn a lot,” said Dumas of the trip to Oxford.
He points out that Starkville”s busing system will serve students, although they won”t be the primary focus. In order to receive the MDOT grant, the busing system must serve low income neighborhoods, high density areas, public facilities and provide access to health care services such as the hospital and health department.
The busing committee will meet with MDOT officials in August to review the progress of the grant application.
The revival of the busing system was first announced in March at MSU President Mark Keenum”s quarterly roundtable meeting. At that time, it was thought Starkville would have to join a regional transit authority to be eligible for the MDOT grant, but MDOT informed the committee that is not a requirement.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.