STARKVILLE, Miss.--As the 2013 fall semester gets under way, Mississippi State's shuttle buses are running the routes for the 17th consecutive year, but the university now has the green light to take the shuttle system further than it's ever been before.
The receipt of a Section 5311 Rural General Public Transportation Program grant through the Mississippi Department of Transportation is enabling MSU and the City of Starkville to partner and expand the traditional campus system to include two new campus-community routes.
Announced last year, the grant provides more than $800,000 for transit operations and approximately $1.5 million for the purchase of 12 new buses. The vehicles will be delivered this semester, including two trolley-style models that will service Starkville's historic downtown district.
Mike Harris, MSU director of parking services and principal investigator for the MDOT grant, said the shuttle system also will be renamed in the spring as the SMART system. An acronym for Starkville-MSU Area Rapid Transit, the new name reflects the expanded routes that span beyond campus boundaries well into Starkville, he added.
Any passenger may ride any shuttle at no cost. Children 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult. For the convenience of passengers, all routes feature live, online tracking and estimated time of arrivals via www.transit.msstate.edu, with a new website planned for the spring SMART launch.
Harris said the fixed routes will feature specific stops at strategic locations. Additional pull stops to be used on an as-needed basis are under consideration, he added.
In addition to the downtown area, local destinations will include the OCH Regional Medical Center, Wal-Mart Supercenter and Kroger grocery store, among others.
Mississippi State President Mark E. Keenum praised the City of Starkville and the Greater Starkville Development Partnership for their collaboration with the university on a project that benefits everyone.
"This convenient, timely transit operation between key areas of campus and the city will meet an ever-growing need for improved public transportation in our community and definitely enhance the quality of life for students and Starkville residents," Keenum said.
The MDOT grant will provide shelter construction at five community stops this fall in preparation of the spring launch of the new routes. Two of the new sheltered stops will be located on Lynn Lane, two in the downtown area and one on University Drive.
The City of Starkville will prepare concrete slabs, supply electricity and complete the shelter installations this fall.
Harris said the new shuttle buses will increase the entire University Transit and SMART systems total to 32 vehicles, with an expected ridership of 6,000-8,000 passengers a day. Year-round city routes will continue six days a week, Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.; campus routes typically operate five days a week during the nine-month academic year, also 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
Currently this semester, the transit system is offering routes long established on campus, including the Green, Orange, Blue and Purple routes, in addition to a route added in year one of the MDOT grant to the Starkville Sportsplex on Lynn Lane. That newest route now includes stops at Spruill Townhouses and Collegiate Heights apartment complexes, Harris said.
In the spring, the SMART system will launch the City Circular and City Campus Connector routes. For a map of all routes, click here.
"This is a game changer for Starkville," said Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman.
"It offers us the opportunity to ease the flow of traffic from within the city to the university and also from point to point within the city. This service will enable our citizens who may not have reliable transportation to be able to access all parts of the city and the university with ease," Wiseman said.
Jennifer Gregory, CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said the expanded shuttle system is a service that reflects the collaborative relationship between the university and local community.
"The SMART system will be a great community asset. Residents, students and local businesses will benefit from this service," Gregory said. "We want to see people embrace the SMART system by utilizing it and encouraging others to do so as well," she said.
Harris said the benefits of transportation system expansion include decreasing single occupancy vehicles from a parking standpoint.
"Other benefits include assisting with sustainability through reduced emissions and roadway maintenance, which helps the tax burden," Harris said.
"Riding the shuttles alleviates congestion and is economical," he added, noting that even those who don't ride the shuttles benefit from the system.
MSU Transportation began operating campus shuttle routes in 1996, with four buses and two routes. Over the years, the system has grown to the current operation of 20 buses and five routes.