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Palace Transit buses switch to token system

Palace Transit driver Lynnette Schilling accepts a token from a rider Monday morning at Meadowlawn Plaza in Mitchell. Palace Transit, Mitchell's city-owned bus service, switched to a system last month that lets riders buy tokens to pay for their rides. (Chris Mueller/Republic)

After a recent policy change, tokens can be used to get a ride on Mitchell’s city-owned bus service.

In late August, Palace Transit switched to a new system that lets riders buy tokens or use cash to pay for their rides. Before that, the bus service accepted punch tickets or cash.

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Jessica Pickett, who is the city’s senior services director and oversees Palace Transit, said the punch tickets were cumbersome because the system required staff members to keep track of who was riding the buses and then punch those tickets at a later time. Palace Transit staff, not riders, handled the majority of the punch tickets.

“It was a lot of paperwork and staff time with the punch tickets,” Pickett said.

It cost $1,900 to print and buy the new, plastic tokens. That cost was entirely offset by a number of local businesses who decided to contribute, Pickett said.

The tokens cost $2 each for a one-way ride during normal hours and $3 each for one-way rides late at night, early in the morning and on weekends. Palace Transit currently offers a deal in which anyone who purchases 10 tokens at once gets another token free. Palace Transit is also selling $2 token pouches for riders who need a place to store their tokens.

Pickett said the tokens give riders who are uncomfortable using cash or don’t regularly carry cash in the right amounts a convenient alternative.

“People don’t carry around one-dollar bills.” she said. “They carry around twenties.”

Tokens can be purchased at the Palace Transit office at the city-owned James Valley Community Center, located at 300 W. First Ave., or purchased directly from bus drivers if riders notify Palace Transit in advance.

The switch to the new token system has not had much of an impact on how many people are using Palace Transit, Pickett said. However, a federal regulation implemented last year that requires riders to request a ride at least one day in advance has continued to hurt the bus service’s ridership.

From January to August, Palace Transit had 57,167 riders, according to the bus service’s monthly reports. That’s 7,604 fewer riders than it had in the same time period in 2012.

The regulation, implemented in July 2012, is meant to prevent public transit companies from competing with privately owned firms.

“We anticipate it will start increasing again,” Pickett said, referring to Palace Transit’s ridership. “The public is getting used to calling a day in advance for their rides.”

Palace Transit has seven full-time and five part-time drivers. During the city’s budget hearings, which were held in August, the Mitchell City Council approved Pickett’s request to hire an additional full-time driver, but the position has not yet been filled.