BY JEFF CLARK
There’s been a lot of talk recently in the Friendly City about transportation, especially the possibility of closing some railroad crossings on the Southside and the long-awaited debut of buses from Indiana-based transportation company Lawrence Transit System. The railroad crossings will be discussed at a public hearing tonight, and that’s another topic for another day. All I will say about that is this: Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor and Mayor Robert Smith made a big to-do Monday night that if the people don’t want the crossings closed, it will not happen.
The continuing saga of Lawrence Transit is another, more subtle transportation discussion. Almost a year after announcing it is coming to Columbus, not one bus has run its route anywhere in Lowndes County. And the way the city has bent over backwards to try and accommodate the service is baffling at best.
I’ve been skeptical of the bus service since the beginning, or at least from moment I received a press release written on faux City of Columbus letterhead stating it had partnered with the city in attempting to get business owners to sponsor bus stops. The city denied having anything to do with the announcement.
Lawrence Transit fired back to criticism by basically accusing anyone who questions their service, or lack of service, in Columbus of being against the elderly, and they even went as far as to say they weren’t coming to Columbus because of “negative media.” This was a great example of the “I’ll take my toys and go home” mentality, except Lawrence Transit had no toys to remove.
The discussion for the bus service continued into 2013 with no buses in Columbus. So, earlier this year, several city officials used up some of the city’s seemingly endless travel budget and headed to Lawrence, Ind., to see the bus service in operation. Lawrence Transit owner Cliff Redden continued to deny requests from city officials to visit Columbus if he did indeed plan to do business here. To this day, Redden has yet to see the Columbus side of the Tombigbee River.
Lawrence Transit’s delays are puzzling. According to an article from the Indianapolis Recorder from May 9, 2012, Cliff Redden and some others saw a need for a bus system in Lawrence, a suburb of Indianapolis, so they formed a board and raised $300,000 in private funds to start Lawrence Transit. That is a pretty impressive feat. The company is also able to service the much larger city of Lawrence with a quality bus service. Lawrence Transit seems to be quite successful in Lawrence, Ind. But this isn’t Lawrence, Ind.
I’m all for the people of Columbus having an affordable, reliable transportation service. My car is a barely functioning clunker, so riding the bus may be right up my alley. But there was no prior discussion on picking a bus company. It’s almost as if someone saw Lawrence Transit on the internet and immediately decided they needed to be in Columbus. There was no selection process and no other bus companies were discussed in public by the council. And almost a year later, here we are — still without a bus service.
I hope Lawrence Transit gets it together and gets the insurance and is successful. But if it continues to be a folly, the blame for its failure falls on the city for not vetting other companies.
Jeff Clark is the Managing Editor of The Packet. You can reach him at email@example.com/packet.0