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