AMITE — People in the northern end of Tangipahoa Parish who cannot afford a vehicle have a tough time trying to reach health care facilities, physicians, grocery stores, general shopping opportunities and educational facilities farther south in Hammond and Ponchatoula — and that, some residents and officials say, is why an expanded north-south bus service is needed.
“I am pleading with you, on behalf of the elderly, the poor and the young students who want to go to Southeastern Louisiana University,” Kentwood resident Antoinette Harrell told the Tangipahoa Parish Council on Monday. “These people, our fellow citizens, have to beg rides to get to a doctor’s appointment. If they need medical and other services in Hammond, they have no way of reaching them. A bus service joining the parish together would be of great benefit for these people.”
Her plea did not fall on deaf ears.
The Parish Council agreed Monday to launch a study of possible ways to establish a public bus system tying the northern end of the parish to existing bus systems in Hammond and Ponchatoula.
The four councilmen representing the northern end of the parish — Trent Forrest, Carlo Bruno, Jim Bailey and Louis Joseph — also agreed to serve as an ad hoc committee on the issue and said they will call a meeting soon for residents in their respective districts to learn more about ways to fund such a service.
Harrell was among about a dozen residents of the Amite, Roseland and Kentwood areas who appealed to the council to start the bus service along U.S. 51, which crosses the parish from its northern to southern extremities.
Harrell noted that both Hammond and Ponchatoula have viable bus systems that tie in to health service centers, shopping areas, the Northshore Technical College and SLU.
Trevon Cooper told the council he cannot afford a vehicle, but he is looking forward to attending SLU if he can find the transportation. He said he knows others in the same predicament.
Debbie Fleming, executive director of the Tangipahoa Voluntary Council on the Aging, said some $30,000 to $40,000 per year would fund a bus line from Kentwood to Hammond on a twice-a-day basis. Fleming said the service could be started by utilizing buses operated by the Council on Aging in the Hammond and Ponchatoula areas. She said state funds could possibly be secured and towns and villages along the proposed route might agree to “chip in some money” so that their residents would have the convenience of bus service to other parts of the parish.
“When I was superintendent of education for Tangipahoa Parish,” Joseph said, “we constantly had issues with parents not being able to reach the schools for various functions and for meetings because they had no transportation. This is something that we should have addressed a long time ago.”
Bruno said it is time to expand the parish’s transportation system now run by the Council on Aging in Hammond and Ponchatoula.
“We need to find the money to make this happen. The people need this service and we are going to take this seriously,” Bruno said.