The City of Meridian's transit agency, managed by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, discussed some possible improvements for future service and gave an overview of their current offerings during a May City Council meeting.
Both the Meridian City Council and a land-use study have advocated for a fixed bus route in Meridian, and Community Regional Transportation, overseen by Choctaw Regional Transportation and Maintenance, said they would do a pilot project to determine its feasibility.
"At some point, I would like to see (a fixed route) around town," George Thomas, the Ward 1 representative, said at the May 21 meeting. "Especially if we want people to come into the museums and theater downtown."
Thomas highlighted the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience and the Mississippi Children's Museum Meridian as two tourism highlights.
"Whenever tourism needs our help we're here," Jeremy Bell, the assistant director of the transportation agency, responded.
The agency does offer a fixed route in an agreement with the Naval Air Station, but doesn't open that route to the public to protect service members.
The city council signed an updated memorandum of understanding with the Choctaw agency in May and celebrated Mississippi Transportation Day on June 20 with the state's other transportation agencies.
The Meridian area has two drivers, with the system hoping to hire one more driver immediately and another Meridian-based driver in the near future.
"We went through the Meridian WIN (Job Center) and did the interviews and hired someone on the spot," Bell said in a June interview, saying the man had the appropriate licenses and passed the background check.
Bell said that most of the riders served by the bus system used it for medical appointments, specifically dialysis treatment.
"The one thing we've really seen increase is that increase in dialysis patients," Bell said. "In the 12 years I've been here, that's really expanded. We've got dialysis places open all over and all the transit agencies across Mississippi are seeing that."
Though Choctaw Transit served several East Mississippi counties, including Lauderdale, Newton, Neshoba and Scott, Bell said transit agencies worked together to try to find buses for rural residents outside of counties.
"Sometimes we're the only transportation that some of these people can depend on," Bell said. "(Someone) might say, 'I don't have any transportation or there may be a day when my family can't take me.' That's where we come in."
Transit agencies network in other ways, too, potentially coordinating routes between regions such as Hattiesburg and Meridian.
"The State of Mississippi wants all of us to work together," Bell said. "It's just something we're talking about... just to try to connect the rural areas of the states."
Bell said the transit system also partners with agencies such as the Greater Meridian Health Clinic, MIDD Meridian, support groups for disabilities such as blindness and more. In the future, a nursing home and Meridian Community College might coordinate services.
"If there's a need, we can see if we can provide some services for them," Bell said. "We try to help out the City of Meridian and it's better if these agencies know that we exist (and) to let us know what they might need."
Connecting Mississippians in more rural communities, such as a route from Noxubee County to Meridian, might allow residents to get to their medical appointments or do some shopping.
"Our number one goal is to get Mississippians where they need to go," Bell said.