Ralign T. Wells
Administrator and CEO
Maryland Transit Administration
How many people do you employ/how many people at your agency? More than 3,300
How long have you worked in the public transportation industry? 23 years
How long have you been an APTA member? 15 years
What drew you to a career in public transportation?
I used public transit growing up in Baltimore, but more than that I was always enthralled and amazed by the process of moving so many people on buses and trains to so many different locations. As a little kid, back when we didn’t have video games, I’d pretend I was a bus driver. A coat hanger served as my steering wheel as I sat in my room dreaming of driving a bus. As fate would have it, I got my start in transportation as a part-time weekend bus operator.
What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource—that helps you do your job?
One of the most valuable benefits of APTA is the ability to bring our peers together. While the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is unique in many ways, the issues and the challenges public transit agencies face are similar across the nation. That’s why having the network of peers that APTA assembles—through conferences or peer reviews—has been very helpful. Frequently we’ve been able to determine the best practices for a particular issue, along with some of the things that didn’t work so well.
Also, we have several employees who are graduates of Leadership APTA who are now executive members of our organization. What they learned through this program has proven invaluable to us, and they are contributing to our mission and our vision.
Please explain why or how this has helped.
A few years ago we had some issues with our light rail system and solicited an APTA peer review. Through that process, we were able to make a number of improvements, particularly with wheel slippage. We learned that other agencies were dealing with this issue as well and that the problem was seasonal. Another beneficial peer review focused on eliminating trespassing.
What do you like most about your job?
Having grown up in this agency—literally—there are a great many things I love about my job. Right at the top of the list is our impact on the lives of people. Every day we’re able to successfully move more than 400,000 trips in a densely populated urban area, demonstrating our commitment to safety and quality service. We have successfully relayed that message to each and every employee.
This job brings new challenges every day. We have to be creative and come up with new initiatives, constantly reinventing the organization to provide consistent service in the face of fiscal constraints. I have never been a person satisfied with good, as good is never good enough. To enhance our performance, the Maryland Transit Administration developed an aggressive performance management program that has made us more efficient and saved more than $35 million. This also helped us come in under budget without cutting service or raising fares: in fact, we have put 2 percent more service hours on the street.
And then there are the daily operational challenges. We recently experienced the Grand Prix of Baltimore going through our downtown area, where 80 percent of our routes travel. Our challenge was to limit the impact on our service while also providing a transit option for the race fans who converged on the city for the event. With that challenge came a terrific opportunity: we showcased one of our hybrid buses as a pace vehicle! We believe it’s the first time a bus has appeared in a Grand Prix. It was a great morale boost for the staff and conveyed the state of Maryland’s commitment to green technology.
What is unique about your agency?
One of the things that makes the MTA unique is that we are a state-run transit agency, not an authority. We are also one of the few that has so many modes: light rail, subway, core bus, commuter bus, paratransit, MARC commuter rail, and our own police department. We are also unique in how our governance works. As a state agency, our funding stream is the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund.
The MTA also has $5 billion in New Starts projects underway. The Red and Purple lines will greatly expand our light rail service. Also, our Corridor Cities project will bring Bus Rapid Transit to Maryland.
Make sure you see Ralign T. Wells' video, now that you've read this!