"There will be of course ticket sales, a waiting area, restrooms. We are designing retail space [for it]. So we are hoping coffee shops, newspaper stores, dry cleaners — those types of things that people who use transportation tend to use.
"We'll have public meeting rooms on the second floor. The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) is interested in moving their offices there because they are just in an office building downtown. So they would like to be located there.
"And customer service functions, those types of things. We'll also do our Access Rider certification process, photos for IDs and things like that."
Ballard admits that while the thought of moving MTA operations into the Music City Central station had been a consideration, it really wasn't feasible.
"It's been discussed and probably just customer service will be located there. So much of what we do here and being close to the fleet operations is more important at this point. And it's really not designed with all of the office space that we would need."
Seat of Funding
The staff at Nashville MTA was kind enough to provide me a wealth of information on its system before I visited. One thing that caught my attention was that it had made a concerted effort to replace the 700 benches in its service area. Benches? So I had to ask Paul Ballard about this.
His response was a big grin, "The benches are where the money is at."
"Under our charter we have the exclusive rights to putting benches out in Nashville for advertising. We generate about $700,000 a year in advertising revenue. $500,000 comes from the benches alone. The benches are the big seller in this town. A half million dollars a year in advertising, that's what those 700 benches do for us. It's an important part of our revenue.
"You can lease them for as short as 30 days. For example, when it is really popular – we have a lot of political advertising.
You can come in just for the campaign season and rent it. I have some politicians who rent it for 30 days, the 30th day being the day of the election. It's real target specific. If you are in the 27th District, you can just buy the benches in the 27th District."
So why would you replace them if they are so profitable. Ballard says simply they were getting old. They were a 20-year-old plastic style showing its age and were pretty ugly.
"We just went out and selected a whole new bench style and we are replacing all of them. I think of the 700 we've probably done 450. We're well over halfway to get them all. [They are] much superior."
A half million dollars in revenue from benches?! So is MTA planning on expanding and trying to get more milk from this cash cow?
"700 is probably the limit of what we can do because we are pretty well saturated on our bus routes. It's pretty much the limits I would think," Ballard says.
"What we need to do now is expand our shelter advertising because we don't have a lot of advertising on the shelters. We have some sold, but that would be next. Then we will expand that.
"We have a lot of shelters, but we've been concentrating on benches first. Then we will go through and start expanding the shelters. But the benches needed to be done first because they were the oldest and in the poorest shape."
Ballard prides his agency on being quick to change and adapt to new situations and technologies. One of these new technologies soon to be tested by Nashville MTA is a farebox that will be able to accept credit cards with a single swipe as you enter a bus.
"We are getting ready to start accepting credit cards on the buses. We've really developed all the fare media. But one thing we've got to crack now is so many people in today's society who don't carry any money," Ballard says.
"The difficult point is the transaction fee. It has always been so much a purchase. That's why not too long ago you might see these smaller merchants say minimum credit card charge will be $5 or $10.
"What they do now is they have what they call micro-purchases. Because we can't pay 50 cents on a dollar per board charge. So now what they have is micro-purchases. And with the technology today you can bill the company one time and submit all of your purchases and they only charge you a few pennies per transaction.