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Late-night bus route considered

For about $900 a weekend, the city of Oxford can provide transportation to students leaving the Square and going back to campus, according to Tim Akers with McDonald Transportation, which manages the Oxford University Transit bus system.

Akers presented the numbers Wednesday at the OUT commission meeting at the request of Mayor Pat Patterson who asked the board to examine adding a late-night route Thursday through Saturday during the school year.

The idea was brought up for the first time in September to the OUT board who instructed staff to come up with some numbers and tabled the discussion until Wednesday’s meeting where Patterson presented his reasoning behind wanting to provide the students a safe way back to campus.

“Someone said we’re helping them come here and drink,” he said. “I say, they’re coming anyway. And I think it’s our responsibility to try to get them home safely. It’s becoming a growing importance. I feel it falls a little on local government’s shoulders — and the university’s — to try to get them home safe.”

Ron Biggs, OUT manager, told the commission he does not have the manpower or the buses to add an additional route.

The $900 a weekend would cover the cost of a driver, a security guard on the bus, and nightly cleaning of the bus. It does not include the cost of purchasing an additional bus. Biggs said he would be hesitant to use one of the other regular buses on the nighttime route because of the possible smell and vandalism that could be done to the bus.

Commission member Mike Harris, who is also the director of parking and transportation on the University of Mississippi, used to work for the University of Starkville where they also provided a late-night route. It was funded through their 2 percent food and beverage tax.

“We used older buses that were used exclusively for that route,” Harris said.

Patterson asked Harris if the route worked well in Starkville.

“There were issues, always something every night,” he said. “But it’s expected. But yes, it worked.”

Commission member Jean Robinson pointed out that there is a nonprofit university program, Safe Ride, that has been providing late-night free transportation from the Square back to campus for two years. Safe Ride is funded mostly through donations and fundraisers and is run through the Office of Health Promotion.

“If there is someone already offering the service, why would we want to duplicate it?” Harris said.

Commissioner Carol Haney said she would like to at least look at the logistics on running the route.

“The city really doesn’t ask us for a whole lot so I think it’s something we need to continue to look into,” she said.

Harris said he would speak to the university for thoughts about helping fund the late-night route and Akers said he would talk to the Mississippi Department of Transportation to see if the late-night route would meet any grant requirements.

Also on Wednesday, the commission:

— Reported 200,757 people rode the bus during the month of September and took in $2,276 in fares. The university pays more to operate the system so that students can ride at no charge.

— Reviewed the new Lavender line that will provide service from the university and down South Lamar where several new developments are being built. The red route was tweaked to include the new Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi campus when it opens in 2017. The new route and route changes won’t take effect until next October. The additional route will cost $286,000 a year, with MDOT paying for 50 percent, leaving the city and university to split the rest, roughly $70,000 each.

— Harris reported the cement pads for a new gate at the Kennon Observatory building are almost finished. Only buses will be allowed inside the loop that will be one of two major bus hubs on campus with a shelter and electronic estimated time arrival signs and maps of all the routes. The other hub will be at the student union once renovations are complete.

— Patterson reported the city will put in eight parking meters near High Cotton condominiums at the request of the business owners in the retail strip below the condos. Patterson said students, trying to avoid parking permit fees, are parking all day in the free parking lots on the Square and riding the bus to campus.