Vicksburg Tourism: Limited public transit is a driving concern

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 9, 2010

These stories are the third in a series by staff writer Steve Sanoski and journalism students from the University of Mississippi. On Wednesday: Blues is at the root of music here and nature tourism has untapped potential.

Local transportation is a “driving” concern for some tourists visiting Vicksburg. For a city with almost 25,000 residents, public transportation is limited.

The project

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Five journalism students from the University of Mississippi spent — Aline Carambat, Andrew Mullen Scott, Elizabeth Pearson, Donica Phifer and David Hopper — two days in Vicksburg last month — to gather and report on the future of tourism in the area. Their stories, directed by reporter Steve Sanoski and Executive Editor Charlie Mitchell, are being published through Friday.

Scroll down for video

Part 1: If you build it, they will come, March 6, 2010

Part 2: Military park looks ahead to 150th anniversary

Part 3: Vibrancy for residents might hold key to city future

Francis Simmons, who has been a travel counselor at the Mississippi Welcome Center for 17 years, talks to tourists every day. She said she’s routinely asked about easy ways to get around town.

“We get asked several times for bus tours,” Simmons said. “We have a small transit system, but we do not have transportation to take people around.”

The city’s public transit system, NRoute, is working to get two trolleys on the road to carry passengers in the downtown area.

According to the head of the Vicksburg Heritage League, Shirley Waring, the new trolleys will go a long way to help solve the city’s transportation problems.

“It is a very visual thing as well as being helpful in getting people from point A to point B,” Waring said.

The two trolleys will be paid for with federal stimulus money, along with two 25-passenger buses, one 40-passenger bus and $50,000 worth of shop materials, said NRoute Executive Director Evelyn Bumpers. If there’s demand, the trolleys could be used for scheduled city tours.

In normal operation, NRoute buses follow map routes Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. except holidays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. They serve the downtown historic area, but they are not designed for narrated tours.

At least two companies have offered tours by horsedrawn carriage in recent years. Their challenges were infrequent use and the city’s hilly terrain.

Other factors also have contributed to the city’s transit situation.

Last July, Vicksburg’s only nonpublic travel service, J&B Cab Company, closed its doors citing the city’s insurance requirements and the increased use of NRoute. For the first time in more than 75 years, the city is without taxi service.

Waring says the city should also consider making it easier for people to get around on foot.

“We need to improve the way a tourist can get around town as a pedestrian, where to park, where to walk, where you can sit down,” Waring said.

Where bus tours were once a staple of the tourism industry, they have fallen prey to higher expenses and a change in consumer preferences.

Guided tours of the Vicksburg National Military Park are available through the Vicksburg Licensed Tour Guide Association, a group that tests and certifies applicants. The park also offers myriad other assistance, including guidebooks, DVDs with narration and devices keyed to the Global Positioning System to give visitors location-specific information.

Andrew Mullen Scott is a student at the University of Mississippi.