MITCHELL — With a taxi company available in Mitchell, Palace Transit is trying to meet transportation demand by adding two part-time drivers.
After gaining approval to add two part-time drivers, Palace Transit – the city’s transit provider – is looking to extend its hours of operation to 8 p.m. on weekdays and add a few hours additional weekend operations.
With the increased ridership Palace Transit has seen in the face of dwindling taxi services from Mitchell, Jessica Pickett, Mitchell’s community services manager who oversees Palace Transit, said the two part-time driver jobs would add transport services on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We would be able to work longer hours within the 8 p.m. deadline compared to currently, we close at 6 p.m. We also hope to reopen on Sundays,” Pickett said.
Palace Transit provided nearly 15,000 more rides this year than in 2021, with about three months remaining in 2022. In 2021, the city’s transit service handled 58,173 passengers. In September, there were 73,142 runners served this year.
Decreasing taxi services coupled with increased ridership prompted Palace Transit to begin offering same-day rides for $10 in July. And it has been booming since its launch.
From the first day that same-day service began on July 18 through September, Palace Transit provided 145 same-day rides, Pickett said. Prior to rolling out the same-day ride service, Palace Transit required all riders to plan rides a day in advance.
“Our labor transport just exploded,” she said.
Managing the surge in ridership with current staff posed new challenges, Pickett said.
“There are a lot of people in the morning, especially at 5:30 a.m. because we have people going on dialysis and working. With the one vehicle we have, we’re not able to get everyone to work at 6 a.m. and dialysis since everyone has to leave at exactly the same time,” Pickett said.
Palace Transit hours of operation are 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday until 4 p.m.
At a recent Mitchell City Council meeting, council member Kevin McCardle pleaded to restore night bus service on weekends to deter drunk driving after the bar closed at 2 p.m. morning.
At some point in the past, the council asked Palace Transit to roll out a weekend bus operation when taxi services similarly declined to the level Mitchell is currently struggling with. However, Pickett said an already reduced staff would make it nearly impossible to bring late night weekends back to early morning bus service. The shortage of drivers forces Pickett out of the office to help drive when she can.
“Our biggest fight right now is finding employees. We’ve lost two full-time employees right now,” Pickett said.
The city announces the two new part-time driver jobs.
Although the positions aren’t eligible for health insurance, City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein noted that part-time driver jobs could be a “good side job” for someone already on the state pension system.