Juliette St. Romain
The city of Oxford hopes to improve the Oxford University Transit bus system by making it more accessible for elderly and disabled residents.
Russ McNees, an Oxford-Transit Commission member, said Oxford now offers a transit system for citizens who are blind or physically challenged. If they cannot make it to a bus stop, they will be picked up by the bus at their home.
“The OUT bus provides service for certain disabled individuals – another benefit to the community,” McNees said. “OUT provides a complementary para-transit service to individuals determined to be ADA para-transit eligible (those who are blind or use a wheelchair). So there are both elderly and those otherwise disabled who are able to utilize this service. One of the nice things about it is that it can pick those individuals up at their own homes.”
In a town with 23,000 college students, the OUT bus system is important. Parking remains an issue in the growing small town, and the public transportation system helps alleviate that problem.
Ron Biggs, superintendent of the Oxford-Transit Commission, has been involved with OUT for the last 14 years. In 2008, he was the first employee hired by the Oxford University Transit Commission.
“In 2008, the mayor at the time, Mayor Richard Howorth, and a gentleman named Robert Babbit got together and realized that this university city had no public transportation,” Biggs said. “They then put together a survey, talked to consultants, and decided that a public transportation system should be put into play.”
Biggs has watched the public transpiration system grow over the past decade, which has been rewarding.
“The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the overall success of the system,” he said. “When we first started, there were many people who were negative and did not think the transportation system would work, but we have grown to be quite successful now.”
The transportation system started with two bus lines and has grown to 12 with plans to add two more by next year.
OUT leaders also plan to make the transit system more technology friendly, equipped with wi-fi. Until then, Oxford citizens can download Next Bus, a GPS System app that informs users how long it will be until the next OUT bus arrives.
The bus system is not free to all, but all University of Mississippi faculty, staff, and students can ride the bus by showing their I.D. The cost for the general public is $1 for adults, 75 cents for school students, and 50 cents for those with physical challenges.
OUT is used by around 7,000 people daily. “Last year alone, we averaged 1.4 million people using the transit system here in Oxford,” Biggs said. “Buses come every five to 10 minutes, but that is put on pause sometimes with traffic and things of that sort.”
Biggs said new buses will help improve OUT. It now has 31 that run from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. “If we could get some new buses, we will have no complaints,” said Biggs.
McNees believes OUT has improved the Oxford community. “It provides a service to those who don’t have their own means of transportation – allowing people to get to work or to the grocery store when it could otherwise be more difficult,” he said.
It also reduces the number of vehicles on the road, he said. “That works as a benefit both environmentally and by reducing traffic congestion,” he said. “Involving Ole Miss students in particular, the OUT bus routes pick up at a number of apartment complexes throughout Oxford.
“By riding the bus to and from school, it has helped reduce traffic congestion in town. In addition, I know that parking is always a problem on campus, and I hope the bus system has helped with that issue as well.”
The Oxford-University Transit Commission oversees and directs the overall system planning, coordination, fare policy, establishment of transit routes, scheduling and creation of transit system policies.
The commission meets the second Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. in the city hall conference room. For more information about OUT, visit http://www.oxfordms.net/visitors/oxford-university-transit.