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Palace Transit to add two part-time drivers to handle surge in ridership amid Mitchell's taxi woes

“We would be able to work longer into the 8 p.m. time frame versus right now we close at 6 p.m. We’re hoping to reopen on Sundays as well,” Jessica Pickett said of the increased hours of operation that could be provided if two part-time drivers come on board.

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A Palace Transit bus driver begins his shift.
Sam Fosness / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — With one taxi company available in Mitchell, Palace Transit is attempting to help meet the demand of transportation by adding two part-time drivers.

After getting approval to add two part-time drivers, Palace Transit — the city’s public transportation provider — is seeking to extend its hours to 8 p.m. on weekdays and adding some additional weekend hours of operation.

With the surge in ridership Palace Transit has experienced in the face of Mitchell’s dwindling taxi services, Jessica Pickett, Mitchell’s community services director who oversees Palace Transit, said the two part-time driver jobs would add transportation services on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“We would be able to work longer into the 8 p.m. time frame versus right now we close at 6 p.m. We’re hoping to reopen on Sundays as well,” Pickett said.

Palace Transit has provided nearly 15,000 more rides this year than in 2021 with roughly three months still remaining in 2022. In 2021, the city's transportation service handled 58,173 riders. As of September, there were 73,142 riders served this year.

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The dwindling taxi services paired with increased ridership prompted Palace Transit to begin offering same day rides for $10 in July. And it’s been booming since it was rolled out.

From the first day the same day ride service began on July 18 to September, Palace Transit has provided 145 same-day rides, Pickett said. Prior to rolling out the same-day ride service, Palace Transit required all riders to schedule rides one day in advance.

“Our workforce transportation has been just blowing up,” she said.

Handling the increased ridership with the current staff has posed new challenges, Pickett said.

“It gets really busy in the mornings, especially at 5:30 because we have people going to dialysis and work. With the one vehicle we have, we’re not able to get everyone to work at 6 a.m. and dialysis since everybody has to go at the exact same time,” Pickett said.

Palace Transit’s hours of operations are 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday until 4 p.m.

During a recent Mitchell City Council meeting, council member Kevin McCardle implored bringing back the weekend night bus service to deter drunk driving after 2 a.m. bar closure.

At one time in the past, the council called on Palace Transit to roll out a weekend bus operation when taxi services dwindled similar to the level Mitchell is grappling with as of now. However, Pickett said an already short staff would make it nearly impossible to bring back the weekend late night into early morning bus service. The shortage of drivers has Pickett stepping out of the office to help drive when she can.

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“Our biggest struggle right now is finding employees. We’re down two full-time employees right now,” Pickett said.

The city is advertising the two new part-time driver jobs.

While the positions don’t qualify for healthcare insurance, City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein noted the part-time driver jobs could be a “good secondary job” for someone already on the state’s retirement system.

A look inside Mitchell's taxi woes...
Members Only
The decline of available taxi services and increased ridership prompted Palace Transit to begin offering same-day rides for $10 in July, but the transit's 6 p.m. close time leaves Mitchell with one taxi for night hours.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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