"You call up and say I am at bus stop 21 and I want to go to Green Hills Mall. And the driver will say OK I will be there in 15 minutes. And you walk to bus stop 21 and the driver picks you up and takes you over to the mall."
Other systems have something of a similar nature in place such as Kansas City's MetroLink, but this is a first for the Nashville area. And it is targeting people who don't drive, such as teens and seniors, but Ballard also hopes to sway others to try public transit and leave their cars at home when they want to go to the mall.
"That's why we're including Saturdays the first time. But this is a new concept for us," Ballard says.
"We think this is a real unique way to do this because we used to have a fixed-route bus that went through here and it was very low ridership and we dropped that.
"I think this concept if it works well, there, what we'll do is we'll look at using this in other residential areas where we have perhaps a fixed route bus that maybe doesn't get the proper level of ridership.
"What that will allow us to do, because we have standing room only issues now in this town — our ridership is just skyrocketing, [is] to take buses from a neighborhood route like that and put it out on the main line where we have standing room only and use a van and make it all called service.
"It's less expensive. It's more responsive to customers because it's basically you set your schedule instead of us running a big bus through the middle of that area once an hour. We think it is a far more efficient way of doing it."
Music City Central
Every system needs a heart. For some systems, especially those built along rail lines, that heart is easily defined; that transit hub where all the lines come together and riders can transfer from one route to another effortlessly. In others, it's a little more difficult. Take Nashville for example, the heart of the system is Deaderick Street in the heart of the city's downtown area.
"Right now Fifth and Deaderick is a mess," Ballard admits. "We create a traffic jam every 20 minutes downtown. It's awful."
And the traffic is only one consideration. Right now MTA only has open air shelters on Deaderick Street. The lack of a real station is a much larger issue.
"People freeze in the winter. It's hot in the summer because they are just standing out on the sidewalk. We have no control over who is there. It's a public sidewalk. You know if people want to hang around and cause problems, we really can't control it because it's a sidewalk."
But Ballard and the MTA are looking to solve this problem with the creation of a new heart for the system called the Music City Central. The land for this multilevel facility has been purchased and it will cover two parking lots on a five-acre square of land.
The project total with land acquisition and everything is about $48 million, which MTA has already set aside. About 80 percent of the funding is federal earmark money and the rest is made up of a combination of federal, state and local funds.
"What we've done is we have bought two existing parking lots right next to the state capital," Ballard says.
"We will join them into one parcel and then we will build this basically on top of it. So we will end up with about 750 parking spaces for automobiles as well as having our Music City Central.
"And that is part of the financing package, because half of those spaces will be leased long term to the state in return for $6.5 million of capital money so that we can build it. We had to be pretty creative in pulling money from all the different pots to build this."
Ballard says the five-acre site will have two different elevations connected by escalators and elevators. The plan is to have 12 bus bays on each level of the facility — and more importantly to have them in the downtown core.
"Building it here, what it does, is critically important, is that it preserves the one seat trip into the heart of the central business district. That's why we fought so hard for it. We are going to significantly improve this neighborhood with our facility.
"When we control this property we will be able to protect our passengers much better. They will have warmth in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Restroom facilities. We don't have anything like that down there right now.