Profiles from the recession: Riding the bus in Natchez, Miss.

In an economic recession that has isolated countless Americans, rural residents without a way to get around may be the most isolated of all.

We don’t think much about public transportation in rural areas — out in the country, owning a car is pretty much a given. But those who can’t afford one can’t go anywhere — not even to the doctor’s office or the grocery store — without some form of public transit. Of the billions of highway and transit dollars in federal stimulus money, a small amount is going to help those with no access to transportation other than their own two feet.

The mostly-rural state of Mississippi has been awarded nearly $2.5 billion in overall recovery dollars from Washington, more than $17 million of which is going to build up rural public transit. Natchez, a small Mississippi River town in Adams County, has a plan in place which uses $4 million in stimulus to change rural transportation not just for the state but for all of small town America.

More than 10 percent of the county’s 30,000 residents don’t have access to a car — a number consistent across rural America. Some in Natchez call investment in bus service yet another example of stimulus waste — considering that 90 percent of people do own cars. But others see Natchez’s new public bus service as an example for the rest of the country.

In a report from Blueprint America on PBS NewsHour, special correspondent Miles O’Brien reports from Natchez:

In Adams County, hard times have more or less been constant since the 1980s when the local oil boom went to oil bust throughout the county. In the time since, other industries like lumber have seen a decline, too. The recession has only made things worse. Today, over a third of the population lives in poverty.

Started as a bus service for seniors in the 1980s, Natchez Transit has expanded to help long-struggling residents get to school, work, the store and medical care. We sat down with some of these transit-dependent riders and their bus driver to learn what transportation access means out in the country:

The problems and needs of people in poor, rural America are not new. Still, the recession and the resulting stimulus have given new attention to these areas of the country. Charles Carr, Transit Director for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, believes the time is now to readdress how transportation policy is implemented in rural Mississippi and the rest of the country:

Producers Cameron Hickey and Tom McNamara, editor David Kreger and special correspondent Miles O’Brien for Blueprint America

 
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Comments

  • Kbacquet

    I live in rural northern California, and we’ve had a bus system since the early ’90s — it was a lifesaver when our kids were young and we only had one car. However, it has two major flaws: The first is that it isn’t available often enough — only about once an hour on weekdays, nothing on nights or weekends. It can be ridiculously inconvenient to make connections. The other is that it doesn’t go out of the county to larger towns, which is often a necessity for medical appointments with specialists, or even shopping for special items. On a recent trip to San Francisco, I left my car at home, and was astonished at the convenience of being able to go almost anywhere on public transport. I thought BART was the coolest thing since sliced bread, and I was very glad I did not attempt to navigate in city traffic or pay high rates for parking.

    People often complain “Well, nobody uses the buses.” Well, I would if I could run errands without it taking me all day or if a bus would take me to Redding or Chico. It’s a Catch-22 — it’s tough to get funding when the buses aren’t used, and it’s tough to use the buses if they have too few lines and destinations.

  • CITIZEN

    OUR VISION FOR AMERICA
    By ALYCE VRBA
    October 10, 2010
    OUR AMERICA needs a COMPREHENSIVE CLEAN ENERGY PLAN,and a systematically funded and implemented PLAN TO REBUILD OUR INFRASTRUCTURE for our now,for our future:within/between our Regions;with inter/intrastate coordination,mindset,politcal will,courage;and complete accountability,transparency…AlyceVRBA
    SEE NEW YORK TIMES:
    “Hey Small Spender”,By Paul Krugman,www.nytimes.com/2010/10/11/opinion/11krugman.html
    “An X-Ray of Dysfunction”,By Thomas L. Friedman,www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/opinion/10friedman.html
    “Obama to Press for Infrastructure”,By Jackie Colmes,www.nytimes.com/2010/10/12/us/politics/12obama.html
    “3 Share Nobel Economics Prize for Labor Analysis”,www.nytimes.com/2010/10/12/business/economy/12nobel.html
    “markets with search frictions”:questions re skillsets not matching current and projected job opportunities
    “Facebook Politicians Are Not Your Friends”,By Frank Rich,www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/opinion/10rich.html
    SEE WASHINGTON POST:
    “Shadowy Players in a New Class War”,By E.J.Dionne Jr,www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/AR20101010100304 5.html
    “Wealthy Should Pay More for Medicare Plan”,By Bruce Schreiner,www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/AR2010100 3501.html
    QUESTION:Should upper 1-2%income earners pay higher Medicare costs,pay increased amounts into our Social Security system,receive lower payments or benefits from our Social Security system?
    “Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner Tackles Five Myths about TARP”,By Treasury Security Timothy Geithner,www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/07/AR20101 007050081.html
    SEE LOS ANGELES TIMES:
    “An Ugly,Temporary Answer to CA’s Intractable Budget Problems”,www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-late-budgets-20101010,0,266047 8.story
    See comments re alleged costs of illegal immigrants,costs to provide benefits to wealthy immigrants.

    What are WE,what do WE stand for,what is OUR VISION for AMERICA,if WE systematically fail to rebuild our infrastructure,if WE fail to invest in OUR FUTURE?…30years falling short to short-term actions,thinking,profits,bubbles,.TIME FOR CHANGE…AlyceVRBA http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/opinion/08krugman.html http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/09/opinion/09herbert.html http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/09/opinion/09blow.html http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/09/your-money/mortgages/09money.html http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/09/us/politics/09thomas.html
    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/economy/the-new-poor-baby-boomers-in-the-jo bless-crisis/4172/

    As an AMERICAN,as a CITIZEN y’all don’t sit back;be engaged;be involved;be informed;contact your neighbors,your community groups to dialogue,to organize,to make constructive changes,to vote in 2010 and beyond. DEMOCRACY IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT,NOR IS OUR AMERICA,OUR NOW,OUR FUTURE….AlyceVRBA,2010