Special to The Mississippi Link
JACKSON – Whether it’s getting a commuter to work, an elderly resident to a doctor’s visit, or a young child to the Boys and Girls Club, Choctaw Transit has been a driving force for economic opportunity and improving the quality of life for area residents for over 30 years.
Keeping with its mission, Choctaw Transit has recently extended its service between the Pearl River and Bogue Chitto communities, with stops in the City of Philadelphia, where it will be able to connect more riders with services and employment opportunities. Choctaw Transit currently serves the five county area of Kemper, Neshoba, Leake, Newton and Winston counties, and is an active member of the East Central Transit Action Group (EZTAG) region which includes Clark, Jasper, Kemper, Lauderdale, Leake, Neshoba, Newton, Scott and Smith counties.
And while it primarily serves the Choctaw communities in the area, anyone who lives along the service route is eligible and encouraged to use the service.
A vibrant public transportation system is necessary for economic development and to improve the mobility of the Pearl River community’s residents, according to Choctaw Chief Phylliss J. Anderson.
“It’s essential that we provide reliable and affordable transportation services to our tribal members,” Chief Anderson said. “Many of our students, elders and members from outlying communities depend on the services of transit every day.”
“We are very fortunate not only to have great staff running our program but also support and assistance from a number of funding sources including the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration,” Anderson added. “I am happy that we can work together with our surrounding communities to partner in these services.”
MDOT takes an active role in assisting public transit programs around the state, like Choctaw Transit, because these services are vital to improving the quality of life for the people they serve, according to Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall.
“Choctaw Transit has played an important role in improving the quality of life for the people of the Pearl River Community and surrounding area for over three decades,” Hall said. “MDOT recognizes the important role the service has in getting people to work, children to the Boys and Girls Club and those with medical needs to the care they need. This is a vital service, especially in a rural area, that improves mobility and opportunity for a large number of residents.”
Working with its partners, Choctaw Transit recently had grant funding approved by the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) for a new maintenance building in the Pearl River community, the largest of the eight federally-recognized Choctaw Indian communities. The new maintenance facility is imperative to keeping Choctaw Transit’s fleet of 36 vehicles in service.
As a main component of Choctaw Transit’s service, the agency offers seven job-related routes, which provide approximately 225 passenger-trips daily to various places of employment.
“With the rapid, ongoing growth and economic development in our service area, Choctaw Transit will continue to strive to meet our growing public transportation needs,” said Choctaw Transit Project Director Sandra McNeil. “We have a strong working relationship with MDOT and our EZTAG partner agencies, so I’m confident that we will be able to continue to provide a wide array of transportation services to our region.”
To assist residents in meeting their healthcare needs, Choctaw Transit provides non-emergency medical transportation for approximately 23,350 people annually.
Additionally, elderly riders are taken to the Nutrition Center for meals, activities, shopping and other daily activities. Other services include the transportation of disabled residents to destinations where they receive skills training and employment, and the transportation of an average of 40 students daily to the local Boys and Girls Club.
For students at East Central Community College and Meridian Junior College, transportation is provided twice a day during the school week.
To keep the Choctaw Transit program moving forward the organization is seeking to utilize funds from a Federal Transit Administration Tribal Transit grant to cover operating and maintenance costs, and for the purchase of a new bus to accommodate the expanded route between the Pearl River and Bogue Chitto communities with stops in Philadelphia.
Also, as the program grows an added emphasis will be placed on working regionally within EZTAG as coordination with other agencies will be imperative. To reach that goal Choctaw Transit has implemented a new software package that will allow for centralized scheduling, dispatching, maintenance and reporting for all EZTAG grant-funded public transportation providers.
“Like many others, our area has been affected by the recent recession, so we must carefully scrutinize all expenditures,” McNeil said. “Many of the vehicles operated by Choctaw Transit are older and need to be maintained to extend their lifespan, which is why the funding from MDOT for the new maintenance facility is so important as it will allow us to maintain existing services and improve others.”