Breaking Down Mobility Barriers, One Bus at a Time

How Toyota’s support kickstarted a stagnant public transportation project and changed a team member’s life

September 04, 2018
All Aboard – Tupelo Public Works employees prepare signs for the city’s new bus service program. Tupelo Transit is the city’s first-ever public transportation system, and was developed in partnership with Toyota. Photo courtesy: Adam Robison, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

Carolyn Angelos has spent a lot of money on cabs.

“Thousands of dollars,” the Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Mississippi assistant manager explains – sounding a little shocked to hear the words come out of her own mouth. “I’ve invested thousands and thousands of dollars on cab rides. All for my daughter.”

Her daughter, 31-year-old Kilah Angelos, is ambitious, smart and eager to contribute to her community. But she’s also epileptic. And because of the unpredictable rhythm of her seizures, Kilah can’t get a driver’s license. That means the simplest, most mundane errands most of us take for granted – grocery shopping, going to the doctor or post office – have to be carefully coordinated around her mother’s rotating shift schedule at work.
A Mother's Love -- Carolyn Angelos (second from left), pictured alongside her daughter Kilah (left). 

“It’s heartbreaking for her,” Angelos says. “And it’s heartbreaking for me. She can’t go to school. She can’t get a job. It’s hard for her to even make any friends. She feels like a potted plant. No mother wants this life for her child. This is why I work for Toyota and give 100 percent every day. It’s all for Kilah.”

Tupelo, Mississippi, where Angelos and her daughter live, has no public transportation. But this month, that’s changing. After years of discussion, the city just launched Tupelo Transit, a pilot program offering local bus service around the city. Toyota partnered with the city’s leadership, sharing knowledge, resources and funding to help bridge the mobility gap and help people like Kilah move.

For the next 13 months, Toyota’s Social Innovation team will work with the city to market and evaluate the service. The goal is to expand access to jobs, healthcare and social opportunities to people just like Kilah.
“It took a lot of folks working a very long time to make this dream possible,” Tupelo mayor Jason Shelton told the Tupelo Daily Journal.

When Angelos learned about the project, she had an emotional response.

“Tears fell,” she says. “I get emotional just thinking about it. This is absolutely life-changing for us. There was this huge barrier between my daughter and the life she wants to live. I did everything I did to help her get around it. I would drive her anywhere I could. I would use all my vacation days to help her run errands. I mean, that’s just what a mother does for her child, right? But now, that barrier has been removed. And now Kilah can start to reclaim her independence. And she’s not the only one. Toyota is helping a lot of people here start their impossible.”

Tupelo’s mayor says he’s determined to see the system succeed. And so is Angelos.

“If I have to ride these buses every weekend to show much they’re needed, I’ll do it,” Angelos says. “I will stop at nothing. And my coworkers are right there with me. They’ve offered to ride with me. So, if you take the bus, you’ll probably see a bunch of us on it, too.”

By Kristen Orsborn

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