At one time, downtown Jackson was not only the center of commerce, but the center of life in a lot of ways. Long before the days of the shopping mall, people traveled to the central business district to do their banking and shopping. For those who could not afford automobiles and needed to get the outskirts of town, which in the 1960s for north Jackson was modern-day Meadowbrook, one would hop on a bus downtown and ride it to the city's edge and then come back.
These were commonly referred to as the "maid's routes," and even though the economy and Jackson as a whole has changed, the city's bus routes have not, for the most part. With a few exceptions, most of the routes JATRAN runs still go from downtown and fan outward, even though most jobs left downtown long ago.
When a group of residents and planners got together to draft a master plan for west Jackson in 2013 and 2014, transportation needs emerged as a key issue. The report states that approximately 6,100 Jackson households lacked a vehicle in 2012. The lack of reliable transit has ripple effects that include limiting peoples' employment options and even perpetuating homelessness.
Making matters worse is that the city's buses do not operate late into the night or on Sundays. Various officials have made noise about changing this over the years, but no substantive changes have happened.
But that time is long past due. It's not that having a reliable public-transportation is just a nice thing to have, but as Dr. Scott Crawford rightly told the Jackson City Council this week, for many people, and for our city, it's as important as food, water and shelter. Jackson's woeful roads are hard on our buses, sure, but they're worse on individual automobile owners. Many of these people have seen their water and sewer bills rise, sales tax increase and, if the mayor's budget passes, could see a property-tax increase.
We hope that this week's action to put JATRAN under an operations contract, which city officials estimate will save the city $2 million in the upcoming fiscal year, is a good start. The next step should be a comprehensive and in-depth look at the JATRAN routes to boost efficiencies and revenues.
In addition to rethinking the routes themselves, the city and JATRAN should follow the advice of planning experts such as Dr. Mukesh Kumar at Jackson State University and improve the services offered on the buses such as offering a free WiFi connection.
Although we realize that the—we'll call it politics—will make it difficult to expand JATRAN into places like Madison and Rankin counties, we should follow the advice of Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps and start thinking about how JATRAN can also help serve residents better in less urban parts of Hinds County.