For more than two decades, large blue buses have lumbered about the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus, ferrying employees, students, patients and visitors to and from the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium parking lot.
Effective Sunday, Nov. 1, those “Blue Bird” buses will be a thing of the past.
A new vendor, Groome Transportation, will replace Cline Tours as the institution's shuttle service provider. According to Ivory Bogan, executive director of facilities management, the change marks a new era for campus transit at the Medical Center.
“This is going to be a great improvement,” Bogan said. “This company is very experienced in health-care transportation - one of the foremost experts in transporting employees on major health-care campuses around the nation.
“We're making sure our employees are as comfortable as possible being transported to and from the stadium, especially with the current parking situation on campus.”
The five-year, $16.5 million contract with Groome includes a fleet of brand-new air-conditioned and heated buses, each equipped with a GPS tracking system that will allow individuals with smartphones to quickly determine each vehicle's estimated time between stops.
Bogan said the GPS capability will be made available by Tuesday, Dec. 1.
“We want to make sure the bus routes are mapped in correctly before we make this service available,” he said. “GPS tracking was brought up numerous times at (former vice chancellor for health affairs) Dr. Jimmy Keeton's town hall meetings.
“We're now pleased to provide this service that has long been requested.”
The fleet is fully compliant with American Disability Act standards and boasts rear doors and wheelchair ramps on each 56-passenger bus. Every seat has a seatbelt, and every vehicle has Department of Transportation-prescribed safety equipment on board.
Electronic displays on the exterior of each bus indicate which route the shuttle will take, and overhead messages posted inside each vehicle enhance communication with passengers.
The fleet's state-of-the-art technology system also includes front- and rear-facing onboard cameras and an automatic passenger counting system.
“The new system can generate reports that will indicate how many employees we haul at any given time,” Bogan said. “It's a valuable use of technology-based transportation that we haven't had here before.”
Henry Heitmann, director of environmental services, said the actual number of buses in UMMC's fleet will increase slightly, so more buses will be operational at any given time.
“We'll actually be seeing more buses running - there will be a significant increase in (driver) man-hours being used,” Heitmann said. “Some of the backup buses will be utilized at times when the backups haven't been used before, such as during lunchtime.”
He said an onboard system will warn drivers when they are running too close to the bus ahead of them, helping to prevent shuttles from clumping together, especially during peak hours.
Along with their new “feel,” the buses will have a new “look,” too. The white shuttles have been outfitted with attractive, vibrant “wraps” that tout the many services UMMC offers to the community.
Rondah Marks, chief marketing officer, said the advertisements use the tagline “Only Here” to help underscore the importance of the Medical Center's missions of education, research and health care to the community.
“The 'Only Here' approach to the bus wraps represents the marketing staff's hope to provide UMMC employees and faculty a sense of pride, since the wraps' messages collectively represent the accomplishments of many past and present employees, faculty and students,” Marks said. “The messages provide the 'what we believe and who we are' as an institution.
“After all, the real DNA of the UMMC brand is its people. Without them and their authentic commitment to our missions, the 'brand mark' is just that - merely a mark.”
Bogan said the established campus routes will be maintained; temporary adjustments may be made for ongoing campus construction projects. Once those projects have been completed, permanent shuttle routes may be reconsidered.
He said the contract with Groome also includes transportation from the UMMC campus and stadium parking lots to the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center, shuttle service for special events and patient shuttles between Parking Garages A and B and the hospitals.
Based in Richmond, Virginia, Groome Transportation is a leading provider of transportation services throughout the U.S. The company provides safe, reliable and comfortable transportation service to more than 1 million passengers each year.