Starkville, MSU hash out plans for free transit system

October 13, 2011 1:03:00 PM

David Miller -


Starkville and Mississippi State University are inching closer to finalizing their grant proposal for a joint-transit system.  


A 10-member transportation committee of city and university officials rode an MSU shuttle along proposed routes last week and gathered data they'll use to determine the location of shelters and stops and the exact time between routes.  


The committee, which hopes to revive a public transit system last operated five years ago, will apply for a Mississippi Department of Transportation public-transit grant before March 2012. Grants will be awarded by the summer.  


Before the committee finalizes its grant application, officials will hold a public meeting at the Gillespie Center at 610 Gillespie St. on Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. Officials will have maps of the proposed routes at the meeting. 


"We're still in the preliminary stages of creating the routes, the time of day it would be in operation," said Mike Harris, MSU director of transit and parking. "The biggest thing we need to have is community involvement. It was tried once before, and it was unsuccessful because there wasn't a lot of buy-in from the community." 


The previous transit system didn't have a set routes, as residents could flag down shuttles along any point of a route.  


Harris said that system was unsuccessful because there wasn't a set structure of pickup times people could rely on. And as technology has improved over the last five years, GPS routes and smart phones will allow people to track buses in real time.  


Officials hope to have the city transit system up and running by January 2013. Initially, passage will be free. Though Harris said the city and university could explore paid fares in the future. 


"There are going to be a lot of folks who depend on it," Harris said. "This is the right time to get this going." 


The university-led push for an expanded transit system was initially meant to service students in town, but to apply for the MDOT grant the busing system must serve low-income neighborhoods, high-density areas and public facilities, as well as provide access to health care services such as the hospital and health department. 


One of the proposed shelters will be the Starkville Sportsplex, which would be used as a park-and-ride facility. Other stops will be finalized following the public meeting. 


"It was good to see, even on the small details like time," Starkville-MSU transportation committee chair and Starkville Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said. "An agreement between MSU and the city will benefit a lot of people." 


The grant would allow MSU to expand its current shuttle fleet from 11 to 16, maybe more depending on the level of funding it receives. The grant calls for a 50-50 split on operational costs (fuel, drivers and maintenance) and an 80-20 split on costs for shelters, buses and communication equipment. MDOT would pick up the 80 percent for equipment.  


The city would provide in-kind services for the construction of the shelters and easement grants to provide power for shelters.