The Starkville-MSU Area Rapid Transit, S.M.A.R.T. system is expanding to more effectively serve residents of Oktibbeha County.
Starting Oct. 1, the S.M.A.R.T. bus system will provide complementary paratransit services to all Oktibbeha County residents.
Jeremiah Dumas, the director of Parking and Transit Services at Mississippi State University, said the S.M.A.R.T. bus system, first implemented in 1996 to move students around campus, has continually grown to serve more purposes and patrons.
“It originally was set up just to be a student system. That’s it. It moved students from their parking location to their building,” Dumas said. “In 2011 and 2012 there were discussions, and even a little earlier than that, there was a need identified that we needed to focus on more than just students. It wasn’t just a need of moving people around campus, but we needed to look at moving people to campus, and then, through partnerships with the city, it was identified that there was a need for moving people in the city.”
From there, the system grew to include a paratransit service, which is a door-to-door transportation service for handicapped riders. In order to take part in this service, residents must go through an application process that includes doctor’s notes and an interview, much like applying for a handicapped parking pass.
Once in the system, residents simply call 24 hours in advance to ask for pick-up, and the transit system will take them from their home to their desired destination.
The S.M.A.R.T. bus system already provides limited paratransit services for residents located within 1.5 miles of the system’s 11 fixed routes, in keeping with federal mass transit fund requirements. However, when the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District stopped offering their paratransit services, the county approached S.M.A.R.T. to propose expanding its paratransit services to fill the handicap transportation void left by this organization.
The county agreed to allocate funds in order to help expand the S.M.A.R.T. paratransit system into the rest of Oktibbeha County.
“They are funding us $50,000 a year that will go into our operational budget, and that will allow us to then grow our paratransit system to the entire county,” Dumas said. “So instead of only providing service within that 1.5-mile range of our current system,we will now provide paratransit services to anyone within Oktibbeha county.”
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said the expansion of the S.M.A.R.T. bus system coincides with the growth of the county, and will be immensely helpful for those without personal transportation.
“The county’s growing and as the county continues to grow, you have different individuals who have different perspectives as far as the things they think will make the county a much better place to live,” Trainer said. “I think expanding S.M.A.R.T. bus services will give individuals who have issues of transportation, ... an opportunity to be able to go from place to place and enhance their quality of life, get them where they need to be, get them back home when they need to go back.”
Trainer also expressed the hope for future plans of being able to provide paratransit services outside of Oktibbeha County to locations like the airport.
Dumas said although providing transportation for students is important, students generally are able-bodied or capable of finding another means of transportation, while those who are handicapped or of a lower socioeconomic level are not.
“When we see that we are providing a service to people in this community that do not have another option of transportation and cannot walk and don’t have a means to get to their doctor’s appointments other than paying someone an astronomical taxi cost, those impacts on quality of life," Dumas said. "When we know we are benefitting someone’s fundamental quality of life, then those are big positives for us when we look at that service and how it impacts people across the community."
Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill said she is very excited to see this addition to the S.M.A.R.T. bus system, and hopes it continues to expand its routes.
“I think the S.M.A.R.T. bus is a wonderful system, so I have long hoped that they would be able to have enough funding to go out into the county and to help those folks, in this case it is the paratransit services. I am delighted that some of those people who are in need of the paratransit system will be able to be helped by it,” Spruill said. “I’m also hopeful that one day in the not-too-distant future, the county will work with the S.M.A.R.T. bus system to expand the regular bus service out into the county.”