SMART system continues to impact community
The SMART system includes a stop at Emerson Family School, which enhances access to Adult Basic Education classes offered at the facility. PHOTO: Russ Houston | Public Affairs
Angel Smith wants to set a good example for her 15-year-old son.
Smith is taking Adult Basic Education classes in Starkville in hopes of obtaining her GED. Since moving to Starkville in January, Smith has ridden the bus every weekday morning from her home on Lynn Lane to Emerson Family School for the classes she hopes will help her get a good job and encourage her son to keep working toward an education. Smith is one of the thousands of riders that use Starkville-MSU Area Rapid Transit (SMART) every day to do everything from buying her groceries to furthering her education and career.
“I want to finish my education,” Smith said. “It would look better if mama finished school. I can’t say ‘you have to finish school,’ when I didn’t.”
In 2012, city of Starkville and MSU leaders announced plans for the university’s shuttle system to expand into the community, creating SMART. Since January 2014, 2.16 million riders have used the free service on campus and in the community. Last year, approximately 750,000 riders used the system, according to MSU Director of Parking, Transit and Sustainability Jeremiah Dumas.
Smith uses SMART to travel to the Christian Women’s Jobs Corps in downtown Starkville, which provides free job and life skills training services to adult women in the area. In addition to fulfilling practical needs, Smith also enjoys getting to know SMART bus drivers and her fellow riders.
“Everybody’s friendly, you can laugh and have a conversation,” Smith said. “That’s what I like.”
Dumas said he is proud of SMART’s impact on the community and the way it has improved the quality of life for Starkville residents.
“We are very deliberate and thorough in maintaining ridership information because it proves to be a simple metric as we constantly evaluate our system for areas needing improvement,” Dumas said. “Despite the continual growth in numbers, we have come to appreciate the less tangible metrics of how important our system has become for those community members who use it as their only form of transportation.
He continued, “we do carry thousands of students each day, but what makes us most proud is carrying hundreds of people in the city each day and providing them their only access to employment, the grocery store, their doctor’s office, the hospital, a trip to the park with children or grandchildren, or to an educational facility.”
In 2016, SMART launched a shuttle route to Golden Triangle Regional Airport, providing a free and reliable way for members of the Starkville and MSU community to get to and from the airport. In its first year of operation, approximately 1,300 riders have taken advantage of the service, according to Dumas.
SMART launched a Paratransit service in 2015 that picks up disabled and elderly citizens and takes them to specific locations in the area. Earner Williams is among the many residents that use the Paratransit service to get to medical appointments. The service takes her from her home in the Rockhill community to her dialysis appointments on the other side of town. Having lived in the area since 1968, Williams said SMART’s presence and services improve the community.
“I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for it,” Williams said.
SMART is funded by a rural mass transit grant from the federal government which is administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation. As part of its annual funding application, SMART solicits community feedback on how to improve the system and shares usage data. Letters of support for SMART included in the application highlight the wide range of benefits the transportation service provides, such as helping a legally blind resident travel independently and allowing parents without their own transportation more opportunities to be involved in their children’s school activities.
“It is very encouraging to know that we are proving a service that fundamentally improves the quality of life for hundreds of people in our community each and every day,” Dumas said.
For more on the SMART system, visit www.smart.msstate.edu or call 662-325-5204.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.
James Carskadon | Public Affairs