MITSPlus is the paratransit service and it has been tracking 20 to 25 percent over last year's numbers each month. "Maybe people who relied on family members or friends for some of their transportation needs, because of the cost of gasoline, they were not available or could not afford to take them. Maybe they did not want to ask to be taken," rationalizes King. "There is no other explanation we see for that demand." He adds, "I know a lot of other communities in Indiana that are our size or larger and are carrying a third to half of what we carry."
Very popular with the community and with tourists is the turn-of-the-century rubber-tired trolleys. The mayor organized the Downtown Development Partnership to revitalize the declining downtown area. Parking concerns and traffi c congestion were major issues downtown. "One of the solutions that came out of this group was to come up with some way of getting people, especially workers in downtown, to park around the periphery, not to drive their cars," King says. "We went to the local community school corporation, asked if we could use the parking lot of its stadium and basketball arena that was not used during the week." The school agreed so MITS purchased some trolleys and developed a route to hit the major government employment areas as well as most of the retail businesses. The parking and the trolley ride are free. "People love the trolleys," King emphasizes. "People go down there just to take a ride on the trolley."
King attributes much of MITS' success to the staff and employee relations. Maintaining basic practices has led to the strong team environment. From keeping employees informed to maintaining a close relationship with the union, the daily practices have created the atmosphere.
Each month there is a meeting with the union and top management to discuss current issues of concern. This practice has led to an understanding between the different perspectives. "The fact is, the last time we negotiated a contract, we had no outside parties. We sat down with the union with no representative on our side and they had no representative on their side," King explains. "We were able to come up with a very good contract that both sides were happy with." He shares that it has not always been that way. "Six years ago we had a contract negotiation process that totally stalled and went to interest arbitration," he says. "As a result of that, the fi ndings of the arbitrator did not favor the employees. A lot of negative feelings came out of that." He continues, "I think that is unfortunate. Trying to heal those wounds on both sides, we got new union leadership and we had to sit down and work out some of the problems." In the sixyear period since, it has been nearly a 180-degree shift from where things were. "The attitude and atmosphere around here is just an unbelievable change from what it was."
King explains the straightforward performance recognition at MITS, "We recognize good performance and we penalize poor performance." He continues, "It's non-punitive, we try to counsel people. They don't get days off, they don't get penalized in that fashion, but if their performance doesn't improve after so many violations, they still lose their job.
"I think that has been a positive and improved relationships. It didn't make sense to me to give a guy a week off because he has had poor attendance." This has been in place for several years now and, King says, has proven successful for MITS.
Permanent teams meet periodically to discuss various topics of concern, striving to make improvements. "We have a safety and maintenance team, we have a wellness team," King explains. "The wellness team takes a very proactive stance in terms of trying to offset some of our health insurance costs and its negative impact on our budget." Involving staff in the different areas has improved relations because of the team atmosphere it has cultivated.
"It seems like more people are interested in employment with us. They're better qualified and they seem to be sticking with us longer," King says. When talking about the operators at MITS he mentions, "We pay the same for a fixed-route driver, a trolley driver or a paratransit driver, which is kind of unusual in the industry. "We looked at it, there is just as much demand, stress, talent and expertise needed to handle the clientele on a paratransit vehicle as there is to operate a fixed-route bus and it seemed the right thing to do.