"So you will be able to get on with your MasterCard or Visa and swipe it in the slot. And we can give you a receipt if you want a receipt right there. And then what we will do is at the end of the day when the bus comes in we will download all that data. The only drawback is that it's not a real-time transaction, so we can't do debit cards.
"It's something we've been working on for a long time. And I can even see having that little MasterCard sticker by the door as you get on the bus, because that's how we need to crack that market. We've got to develop different approaches to different markets. In the old days of the bus service, you get on, you have exact fare, you put your money in the box and that was it. But it's different stuff that appeals today."
For more information on this new technology, check out our Focus On… section at the back of this issue written by MTA's chief financial officer, Ed Oliphant.
Outside of new technologies for his system, Ballard doesn't see any major need to look toward adding additional modes of transit to the system, citing the lack of enough real density in the urban area to warrant adding, for example, a light rail line.
"[The population is] about 650,000 in the city, but of course the urban area is about 2 million when you count in the surrounding counties," Ballard says.
"The city itself is about 550 square miles. That's a lot of territory to cover with 200 revenue vehicles. It's tough. But we have a good basic structure. But I think what we would look at is of course continuing to expand the growth of the commuter rail because of the growth in the collar counties.
"But BRT is definitely the route that we will go. And over the years it's a lot easier to convert a BRT corridor to light rail. So what you do is basically lay the ground work and you can do it in increments and you might even do it by increasing the frequency and improving the bus stops. Then go to Q-jumpers and then go in certain areas to exclusive lanes. And I think we have several corridors, the West End corridor, which would be ideal for that. We have some very heavy corridors here for ridership that we think would work very well.
"And the new buses that we will be ordering will be hybrids and will be artics. We think that is the kind of equipment that we would assign to BRT.
"But we also have our downtown area booming with residential. We have 3,500 units under construction in the immediate downtown area," Ballard notes.
As we toured the system he pointed out several places under development that the system could take advantage of. And that's just what they are planning to do.
"We are working with the chamber of commerce and we are working with developers to make sure they consider public transportation as they do all this," Ballard says.
"A large part of this is that we are in the right place at the right time. We are generating a lot of new ridership through our partnerships with the state government and private employers, but it's just Nashville's time to start really growing and developing."
As we walked, I asked Ballard about their project, the Music City Central and the other developments and the loss of surface parking lots. With so many workers in the downtown core at the state capital, you would think they would be furious about this. But he saw this as an excellent trend.
"It's a wonderful opportunity. It's super. The more surface parking that can go away downtown, the more people have to ride our buses," Ballard smiled.
"People will always complain about lack of parking. The whole downtown could be parking and people would complain that it's not in the right spot. So you are always going to hear that.
"Parking does not make a vibrant city. It's what goes on in the city that makes it vibrant. We just need to make sure that as we grow and develop here that people have the alternative, they don't feel like they need to take the car downtown."