April 26, 2013 10:56:39 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Local officials returned from a fact-finding mission in Indiana late Wednesday with optimism toward Lawrence Transit System's proposal to provide public transportation in Columbus, saying only a few minor details need to be worked out before the company can begin providing its services here.
Mayor Robert Smith, Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor, city attorney Jeff Turnage and director of federal programs Travis Jones evaluated transportation services in Lawrence as well as Indianapolis and met with city officials in Lawrence to discuss how effectively the transit service meets public needs there. Smith said they also met with representatives from Lawrence Transit, including owner Cliff Redden, to discuss details related to bringing their services to Columbus.
He said people who used the service would pay a fare as with many other public transportation providers.
A company representative will come to Columbus within the next two weeks to meet with councilmen and inspectors to inspect potential pickup points and routes in each ward to plan for where to place bus stops and signage.
Smith said Lawrence has a large industrial working community that relies heavily on the bus system to get back and forth from their jobs. As Lowndes County and Columbus continue to attract industry, Smith said he could see that same trend taking root here.
"In Lawrence you have your industry and a lot of those people who work in those industries, their basic transportation is the bus line," Smith said.
He added the buses met American Disabilities Act requirements as well.
Among city leadership in Lawrence who had encouraging words for the transit system was its mayor, Dean Jessup.
"He was very supportive of Lawrence Public Transit and said it was an asset for the city," Smith said.
Smith said he has also heard interest from officials from Mississippi University for Women and East Mississippi Community College's vocational technology department in participating with the city and transit system.
Jones, who previously told The Dispatch that he would meet with grant personnel who work with Lawrence Transit to find out what grants are available in Mississippi, said Monday every grant the company is eligible in Indiana also applies here and he planned to seek funding through those avenues.
The bus company began running routes in the Indianapolis suburb last May. If the two sides reach a deal to bring transportation services to Columbus, it would be the provider's first operation away from its home base.
The trip marked Columbus officials' first face-to-face meeting with Redden, who Smith said initially contacted him last year to inform him of his interest in locating in Columbus. In past council meetings, Dorothy Dowdell, who would direct Columbus operations for Lawrence Transit if it begins operation, appeared before the board and told them the system would be provided at no cost to the city but asked for in-kind services and for assistance in applying for grants. Now, Smith said, Columbus is on the verge of a deal with Lawrence Transit.
"There were a couple of things (Redden) emailed us back (when we were) on the way home that he would like to see some minor changes (to)," Smith said. "If we agree to it, the ball will be in his court."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.