Wednesday, the Oxford board of Aldermen held a commission to check in the the ongoing updates to the OUTbus transit system. Commissioner Donna Gurley called the meeting to order as a progress report on the ongoing refits to the OUTbus fleet, and to check in with transit workers to see how students are responding to the changes.
As more students come into the university, more buses are being commissioned, with two expected to join the fleet of 30 by April 27th. As new buses are put into production, the rest of the fleet is undergoing a massive overhaul to bring the interior up to modern standards. This includes digital signs to track arrival times in real-time and announcers on buses to better notify passengers when they come upon their stops. Mike Harris, the aldermen member responsible for delivering the university report supports the refit, and hopes to continue improving on-board technology in the future. “Obviously we’re in the 21st century now, so we want to do to make it as easy and convenient as we can for our riders, to let them know when the buses are coming,” Harris said.
The refit will cost $153,553 and is expected to take six weeks. $104,000 will be dedicated to branding the fleet with a new coat of paint. Harris said that this will help cement OUTbus as a brand. “When you have a system such as ours that’s grown over 30 buses, you’re becoming kind of the face of the community, and you want that to be something that people can readily look at, and know that that’s what that is.”
Since January, problems with overcrowding on certain bus lines have been addressed by changing the yellow and express lines. Yellow now loops around Oxford’s business district, servicing the apartments around the outer rim of the area. The express route is now the only line servicing campus creek and campus walk apartments. Biggs reported positive responses from the route change.
“Part of the reason that the numbers are so high is that it’s a relatively short route, so it gets around quickly,” Gurley said. “What we’ve seen is a lot of students choosing to ride the bus in those areas, and part of it is that we’ve made a shorter route.”
According to OUTbus route manager, Carol Pringle, overloading may be a larger issue in the future as new apartments rise up behind the strip mall just outside the university. As new housing crops up, new classes will show up in space purchased by the school. “Any time new housing goes up, we definitely have to look at those routes to see if we have enough buses to handle the additional students,” Pringle said. “I think we need to look at a new route there because that traffic is so congested on Jackson Avenue already.”
A number of minor issues were brought to the board’s attention by general manager of OUTbus, Ron Biggs. The route into the university is expected to shut down from May 18th to August 11th as work on a new roundabout gets underway. “That’s such a huge project in such a small window of time,” Gurley said. “It’s going to be crazy.”
The project will close entry into campus from the east side, forcing all vehicular transit into the school to stick to Jackson Avenue. Getting out will require passengers to exit through Manning Way, an outlet near Oxford’s business district. Biggs says that the time change in users experience on the new routes will be minimal.
When the floor was opened to discussion, resident William Patric Gipson stood to propose a change to the intersections surrounding Oxford’s Courthouse Square. Gipson said that the roads surrounding the triangular sections of the courthouse are too narrow for the current traffic load. “I just feel like that some day, I’m really going to have to be able to dodge the traffic coming at me,” Gipson said. His proposal is to have the streets around the intersection widened and cars to travel in the other direction.
The board told Gipson they would have a hearing about installing a new bus shelter in the area. “At one point, we talked about making a bigger stop there, and taking out some parking places on that side,” Gurley said. Due to cost and the importance of that section to through traffic, a major change to the layout of the courthouse square is unlikely, but discussions on what to do to increase OUTbus presence in that area will be held on June.