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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis November 29, 2013
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Meet Donna DeMartino!

Donna DeMartino
General Manager/Chief Executive Officer
San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD)
Stockton, CA
Member, Human Resources, Bus and Paratransit CEOs, Awards, Access, and Legislative committees; Authorization Task Force; Leadership APTA, Class of 1999

How many people do you employ at your agency?
We currently have fewer than 300 employees. This number includes not only people who work directly with the RTD but also our contractors, including MV Transportation, our largest contractor.

How long have you worked in the public transportation industry?
I’ve worked in the industry for more than 27 years, beginning as a part-time bus operator at Sacramento Regional Transit District, where I moved up and through the organization. I came to San Joaquin RTD almost 13 years ago as assistant general manager.

Nine months after I arrived, my predecessor, the general manager, died unexpectedly. It was one week after Sept. 11, 2001, so that was quite a sad and stressful week in my career. The board immediately appointed me acting general manager and made the appointment permanent in November of that year.

How long have you been an APTA member?
I’ve been with member agencies my whole public transportation career, but I’ve been very active in APTA since 1998 when I was selected for the second class of Leadership APTA. I’m very proud to be part of this distinguished class, which includes so many industry leaders. Many of my classmates became GMs. It’s an awesome program—even then it was quite rigorous. The success of our class really speaks to the quality of the program.

What drew you to a career in public transportation?
I didn’t plan a career in public transportation, as most people didn’t. I began my professional career as an elementary school teacher. But I was a single mom with six children to support and was looking for a way to supplement my income, so I became a part-time bus operator.

Within six months, I was selected to be part of the light-rail startup team in Sacramento—one of the first light rail projects in the country. It was an amazing opportunity to learn about rail, literally from the ground up, while working with industry icons Pete Cipolla and Cam Beach.

After I was selected for Leadership APTA, I completed my master’s degree in transportation management from San Jose State University (SJSU) and a construction ­management program at UC Davis. I now enjoy teaching transportation classes at SJSU and University of the Pacific.

What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource? Which one helps you do your job?
There are so many, but a few top my list: legislative information and advocacy, conferences and networking opportunities, the peer reviews (I’ve been a recipient and a panelist), and the excellent website resources.

Please explain why or how this has helped.
APTA’s website covers so many areas—funding, legislation, regulations—everything transportation-related. You can always find an answer or a link. That’s so helpful!

I say this all the time when I teach: Intelligent people don’t have all the answers, but they know how to find them. I know that when I have a transportation question, I can find an answer at the APTA website.

I always introduce students to the APTA website in my classes. One student, an ­engineer at the California DOT, told me this is now his favorite resource.

What do you like most about your job?
I love providing a valuable service to the residents of my community. For our customers, we get them where they need to go by providing frequent, safe, reliable service. And for those who don’t ride, we provide them with services too, including relief from traffic ­congestion and improved air quality, to name a few.

What is unique about your agency? What would readers be surprised to learn?
People are surprised to learn how well Bus Rapid Transit works in Stockton, especially since it was met with so much initial skepticism.

We opened our first corridor—about 6 miles long—in under two years from concept to implementation. Our BRT buses have standing-room crowds throughout the day. Even on weekends, we average 70 riders an hour per bus. We’ve now opened three ­corridors in five years, and we’re working on a fourth. We’ll receive our first articulated buses in December to help handle the demand. And we did it all without incurring any debt (that is how we operate at RTD—we are debt free!). We funded our BRT through a combination of federal, state, and local grants.

It makes a real difference to our elected leaders when they drive by and see crowds of people waiting at the bus stops. Even people who don’t ride RTD can see what we’re trying to do—be innovative, improve passenger amenities, and build a better transportation system. We feel very supported by our community.

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