Plans for more routes, new drivers and new buses are underway in Hattiesburg to expand the city's mass transit service.
Hattiesburg City Council voted unanimously to move forward in creating a new route at the University of Southern Mississippi at Tuesday's meeting.
"This system takes people all over the city, and for many of our students that may not have a car or may not want to drive around the city, I think it's a great opportunity to give them to do so," said council member Jeffrey George.
Right now, the Hub City Mass Transit System operates four routes. The new route around USM, as well as others, are possible this year.
"I think anytime you can connect your university with the city at large, you're making your transit system meet the needs of the people who need it the most," said Mayor Toby Barker.
Barker said the city is working with the university to create the best possible route and a way to pay for it. The approval for this new route around Southern Miss comes after the city held a number of public hearings on ways to improve the service last fall.
"Hearing from neighborhoods, hearing from all the institutions affected, are really value added as we try to plan the next phase of our transit system," said Barker.
According to the agreement with the university, the city plans for two buses to drive the route in "a reasonable
effort to provide frequency of service" every 20 minutes or less.
"There are a number of parking lots that surround the exterior of Southern Miss's campus and this route will include a number of those parking lots so students can better utilize them," said George.
If approved, the city will contribute resources toward the construction of bus shelters along the new route, as well as maintain the buses. According to the agreement, which is three years, the university will pay the city an annual fee on $121,000.
Active students, faculty and staff displaying proper identification will have access to all buses and services of the system during the term of the agreement.
"Obviously, all things take time to adapt, but I think once students get used to it and realize it is a service that's available to them," said George. "I think they will be grateful and will utilize it at a large amount."
The next step for the route is approval by the IHL Board. If approved, the agreement will move to the Attorney General's Office. Barker said he hopes to be able to move forward with those decisions in the coming weeks.
With the new routes, the city is also taking care of new drivers and new buses for the fleet.
Council members approved adding four new driver positions, with a salary of $27,040 per position. According to city documents, these positions are necessary, at a total cost of $108,160, for the implementation of new transit routes in July 2018.
The city will also move forward in the bidding process to add four new buses. According to Urban Development Director Andrew Ellard, Hattiesburg is teaming up with Gulfport's Coast Transit Authority, which intends to purchase several more.
In a memorandum to City Council and Barker, Ellard said "bidding in this way, we hope to achieve some economies of scale that we may not achieve bidding on our own."