During the first three days of the 2014 spring semester, buses of the new Starkville-Mississippi State University Area Rapid Transit carried a total of 15,250 riders.
S.M.A.R.T. is an expansion of an earlier shuttle system that primarily was focused on the MSU campus. The new service provides campus-to-city service from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, with a couple of routes also operating Saturdays.
MSU officials said Friday [Feb. 7] daily ridership continues to increase as the new transportation service works to carry out its mission of more easily linking a growing campus with a growing city.
While passengers ride at no cost, children 13 and under must be accompanied by an adult. All of the new shuttles meet accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Off-campus stops include Vowell's Marketplace (formerly Piggly Wiggly), First Presbyterian Church, St. Joseph Catholic Church, OCH Regional Medical Center, Wal-Mart, Collegiate Heights Apartments, Spruill Townhouses and Starkville Sportsplex, among others. Specific details on the system's seven routes may be found at www.smart.msstate.edu.
"We began running the entire system on Jan. 6 with one bus per route, and we rolled out all 16 buses on Jan. 13," said Mike Harris, MSU's outgoing director of parking and transit operations. "We have a total of 32 buses in our fleet, 11 of which are used in support of the university, such as for campus tours and other events, and 21 that are utilized on the S.M.A.R.T. system."
Jeremiah Dumas assumes duties Monday [Feb. 10] as the system's interim director.
Easily identifiable, S.M.A.R.T. shuttles are wrapped in graphics that incorporate campus, city and Mississippi Department of Transportation attributes, which sets them apart from the traditional shuttles.
Harris said most universities have public transit operated by the city, a private contractor or both. What makes the S.M.A.R.T. system unique is its operation by the university through MDOT, he emphasized.
By providing a no-cost reliable and sustainable form of transportation, S.M.A.R.T. system has been designed to help enhance the quality of life for campus and city residents, Harris said.
"Everyone who rides will benefit from a savings on fuel and vehicle costs," he said. "The possibility of reducing single-occupancy vehicles would help in many ways, such as by reducing traffic congestion, emissions and the amount of tax payer dollars needed for street repairs."
Junior Clifton L. Ezell of Pascagoula said he has come to rely heavily on the shuttle system in order to get around campus in a timely fashion.
"I use it pretty much every day to get to and from class and to my car," the secondary education major said. "I park at 'the Hump' and it's a long walk, so I'd rather just get on the shuttle and have it take me everywhere."
Senior Favian S. Lawson, a biological sciences major from Jackson, agreed that the system provides a convenient service.
"My husband and I share one car; we live so far away, but the shuttle can take me to Wal-Mart, so he won't have to come and get me," she said, adding that she would like to see more buses added in the future.
While still in the early stages of communicating with the public how S.M.A.R.T. operates, Harris said he already has received positive feedback.
"We have had many calls asking for us to consider various other stops, and we will take this information and consider it," he said. "It will be an ever-evolving process.
"There is always a learning curve with any new system," he continued. "The buses are very nice and as riders begin (and continue) using them, it is our hope that they will see the benefit of the service."
In addition to the online link listed earlier, information about S.M.A.R.T System may be obtained by telephoning 662-325-5204.
Information on MSU is available at www.msstate.edu.