City plans changes to mass transit system; hiring consultant.

A complete overhaul of Jackson’s mass transit system is in the works, with city officials expected to seek out a consultant in the coming weeks to help determine the system’s needs.

The Lumumba administration is expected to issue a request for proposals in the next two weeks for a consultant to conduct a “comprehensive traffic study” of the JATRAN system.

Hopes are to eventually implement changes that will better serve riders, improve transit times, and incorporate elements, such as bike-sharing and ride sharing, said Planning and Development Director Mukesh Kumar.

The news comes as ridership with JATRAN drops and months after officials told the Sun it was time to “rethink” the purpose of mass transit in the city.

It also comes as municipalities across the country are revamping their transit systems for reasons similar to Jackson’s.

Meanwhile, Jackson recently has hired Michael Baker International to begin replacing travel shelters at JATRAN bus stops and has purchased new mobile surveillance cameras for its buses.

The Baker contract is for $88,000 and includes replacing as many shelters as possible with the available funding.

The contract for surveillance cameras is with Angeltrax, and is for $233,615. It is being paid for, in large part, with an 80 percent matching grant from the federal government.

Improvements aside, Jackson is also working on implementing a new high-speed transit line that would impact the Northside.

After hosting a series of public meetings earlier this year, officials with the planning department are expected to bring on a consultant this fall to help draw up plans for ONELINE, a five-mile corridor that would run from Fondren to Jackson State University (JSU).

Kumar said the ultimate goal of the work is to “create a mobility system for the entire city of Jackson” and replace the current “hub and spoke” system utilized by JATRAN for years with a corridor-based service.

“Right now, we have a hub and spoke system, where Union Station is the hub and all the buses go outward from there and come back,” he said. “We expect to move to a network or corridor model. That will mean significant realignments.”

A corridor model would provide direct, uninterrupted connections between a set of locations, while hub and spoke connects locations “through one intermediary location,” like Union Station, according to transportgeography.org.

Maps obtained through a Google search paint a more clear picture of the two systems. Hub and spoke systems have multiple fixed routes extending from a single center point.

Corridor systems look more like a plate of spaghetti, with multiple routes, but no central connection.

Cities across the country have switched to corridor-based systems, in part, to increase efficiency and reduce commute times for riders.

Doing so has shown marked increase in mass transportation. In August 2015, Houston, Texas replaced its hub and spoke system with a new one that provided riders with “quick, cross-town routes.” As a result, ridership in that city increased 6.8 percent between September 2015 and July 2016, according to an online article from Curbed Magazine.

Closer to home, Shreveport, La., made numerous changes to its bus service in recent years, including introducing corridor-based routes in 2017, also resulting in ridership increases. According to a June 2018 report from KTBS news, 46,000 more riders used the service in March, April and May 2018 than the same period the year before. More route changes for the city of 192,000 were made in 2019.

Locally, ONELINE would be an example of a corridor-based line. In January, the city announced that it had received a $1 million Federal Transit Administration grant to study the creation of the hub, which would provide a direct route from the Fondren Business District to JSU.

It would serve not only Fondren and JSU, but also the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Baptist Medical Center, Millsaps College and Belhaven University.

Kumar hopes to issue an RFP to draw up plans for the line this fall. The consultant hired will look at “land use, zoning … all the things that we have to change for the (line) to be successful,” he said.

Ridership with JATRAN has dropped precipitously since 2014 when more than 615,000 rides were reported. As of August 2018, the service averages around 400,000 rides a year, according to city documents.

While ridership is dropping, mass transit is a top priority for residents.

Surveys conducted at six community meetings this year showed that 42.9 percent of those in attendance would like to see more bus rapid transit in the city. Following that, 37.7 percent of respondents would like to see more music festivals, 33.8 percent would like more parks, the same percentage that would like to see more movie theaters.

About 80 people attended the meetings, which were held at various spots across the city.

Survey takers showed they would like transit shelters to include real-time information on bus arrivals and departures, more trash receptacles and more comfortable seating.

The Baker contract will replace shelters at bus stops based on survey results and plans drawn up by planning and development, Kumar said.

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