MTA runs its own paratransit service, which it calls Access Ride. But it's recently seen a surge in ridership which meant it had to rethink the idea of paratransit and what it meant to the system.
"We're looking at like 30 percent increase a year in Access Ride," Ballard says.
"When I came here we were doing about 10,000 trips a month and now we're up to about 25,000 trips a month. And I am particularly proud we've not had an ADA denial in more than two years, which is really something. I don't think you will find that anyplace else."
With increased ridership came a need for an increased number of drivers. This is where the system's problems existed.
Access Rider drivers weren't treated equally as regular fixed-route drivers when it came to seniority.
"We used to have two seniority lists. One for the fixed-route buses and then one for paratransit. And we paid paratransit less," Ballard says.
"So there were a couple of negatives connected to that. One is that on any given day you might have extra drivers for the big bus and be short on drivers for paratransit and the two didn't mix. And the other problem that we had was that all of the hiring was done into the paratransit and then you moved up to the big bus because that's where you got more money.
"Well the big problem with that is our customers who use paratransit like to get the same driver all the time. All of us like the same driver whether it's big bus or paratransit or whatever. But what would happen is that there would be a constant turnover in paratransit because we would hire in paratransit and they would move up to the big bus.
"So three years ago in the contract negotiations we negotiated one seniority list and we had one pay rate. So we brought the paratransit people up to the same rate as fixed-route. And now we have one seniority list.
"So if you like to drive paratransit you can come here and make the full money, drive paratransit, you get comfortable with your customers, they get comfortable with you. We stopped that turnover completely."
Ballard says that now all MTA drivers make the same money and have the same union and the same employer. And the change has worked wonders not only for driver morale, but for the system itself.
"It really works beautifully because it also gives us additional flexibility," Ballard says.
"Our schedulers now, if you're a driver you may come in the morning and drive Route 17 and in the afternoon you're on Access Ride.
"Or with your Access Ride vehicle you may be picking up paratransit passengers for the first four hours and then we might put you on a trip on a mid-day on a regular route that has light ridership because we put fareboxes and destination signs on the paratransit vehicles. [It gives us] maximum flexibility."
And MTA's recent bus fleet overhaul wasn't limited to its "big bus" fleet. The Access Ride vehicles got improved as well.
"We currently have 14 new vehicles being manufactured right now as we speak. Those will replace the oldest buses in the fleet, but what we'll do is we'll take nine out of service because that is the fastest growing segment of our service," Ballard says.
As Ballard points out, all of MTA's vehicles are outfitted with fareboxes and destination signs. This includes the paratransit vehicles, and that has led into a new venture for Nashville, BusLink, an on-call service accessible by everyone within a designated service area.
"This would run Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and it will be a direct call to the bus driver. You call the driver on the cell phone and the bus stops are established," Ballard says.
"[The area we are testing this in] is an area that doesn't have any fixed-route bus service in it. It's all residential, light density.
"This would be a unique style bus. It will be one of our small vans [with a] destination sign [and] farebox. And there are actual physical signs at each location.