Our view: It's time to stop waiting for the bus

November 1, 2013 10:08:48 AM



It's been almost 15 months since the Columbus City Council agreed on a one-year contract that would allow an Indiana bus company to operate routes in the city. 


We are happy to report there have been no bus crashes, hijacking, traffic congestion, rate hikes or complaints about the service in that time. 


Of course, there have been no buses, either.  


Let's keep it that way, shall we? At least for now. 


Since officials from the Lawrence Transits System first showed up at a city council meeting a year-and-a-half ago, all that the city has really seen is a string of unmet deadlines, excuses, vague assurances and long stretches of silence. 


Aside from a few ambiguous "Need a Ride?" signs posted at various points in the city, there has been no tangible evidence of the Indiana-based bus company. 


This week, Columbus Mayor Robert Smith received a letter from the company's attorney assuring that bus service will start rolling within 30 days. 


Gee. Where have we heard this before? 


Smith, whose patience with the company seems to be near an end, said he will present the company's request for the 30-day extension to the council on Tuesday. 


We strongly urge the council to reject that request, for reasons that go far beyond the company's repeated failure to meet its deadlines. 


From the outset, the idea of bringing bus service to Columbus has shown all the appearances of a ill-conceived, poorly planned project. There were no studies to indicate a demand for the service. There was no research into routes or schedules. There were no public meetings to get input from citizens.  


This is not to say some form of bus service for Columbus might be justified; but if that's the case, it would be nice to have a shred of evidence to support it. 


The only real selling point for the Lawrence deal was that the city would not bear the financial burden of the bus system beyond some minor in-kind services. 


The funding would come from a Mississippi Department of Transportation rural transit grant. In short, Lawrence Transit would be operating on grant money, but to get that money, it needed Columbus city officials to apply for the grant on their behalf.  


In the absence of any compelling argument for the necessity of a bus service, it has all the appearances of a grant-money grab by a private company from outside the state. What's not to like about that, right? 


Over the past year, Lawrence Transit officials have been secretive. We still have very limited information on bus schedules and fares. 


It should also be noted that fixed-route bus services such as the one proposed are virtually non-existent in Mississippi for a city the size of Columbus. Only Jackson and the Coast offer this type of bus service and both services a far greater population. The bus services in Oxford and Starkville, meanwhile, are extensions of university bus services. 


Ward 6 councilman Bill Gavin, who showed some enthusiasm when the idea was first proposed, has arrived at the only logical conclusion: 


"There comes a time when you have to cut your losses and pull the plug," Gavin said. 


At some point when you are sitting at a bus stop, you realize the bus ain't coming.