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Meet Ronald Downing!

Ronald Downing
Director of Planning
Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District 
Graduate, Leadership APTA Class of 2011;  member, Policy & ­Planning ­Committee, ­Multimodal Operations Planning Subcommittee

Please describe the scope of your agency. 
The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District is a multimodal transportation agency serving San Francisco and several counties to the north, with its public transit service (bus and ferries) primarily connecting Marin and Sonoma counties with San Francisco. The district employs about 400 in bus operations and 80 in the ferry division. Next year’s operations budget is $81 million for bus and $34 million for ferry.
How long have you worked in the public transportation industry?
I’ve been in the industry for 31 years. I started in Hartford, CT, working for a regional planning agency. 
What drew you to a career in public transportation?
I always had a fascination for public transit; I lived outside Boston and noticed all the different modes—subways, elevated rail, electric trolleybuses. Then I became interested in the importance of connecting communities, improving services, and offering dependable service in low-income communities to ensure basic mobility.

My family rode the bus when we went into ­Boston to avoid traffic congestion or parking issues. This gave me the opportunity to go into the city on my own when I got older. I developed an interest in exploring cities through public transit and now I’ve done it around the world—including Asia, Latin America, and Europe. 
How long have you been an APTA member?
APTA has been part of my entire public transportation career. It is an incredible and valuable resource to the public transit community for information sharing and networking.

I was a member of the Leadership APTA Class of 2011 and was picked as one of the class members to serve as a mentor to the Class of 2012.

I’ve been associated with the Multimodal Operations Planning Subcommittee for about 15 years. The opportunity to network and share information with my peers began in earnest around 1998, the first year I gave a presentation at an APTA conference.

In 2009, because of my involvement in the subcommittee and my interest in encouraging younger professionals to participate, I was invited to become its chair. That was the capstone of my involvement with this group. I could give back, ­mentor, make sure the program was interesting and informative, and learn best practices and new ideas.
What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource?
The most valuable benefit to me has been Leadership APTA. The exposure to the perspectives, career paths, and stories of senior transit executives and the oppor­tunity to meet with them in small groups and one-on-one were invaluable in helping me see what it’s like to lead a major transit agency. 

Our class project was to examine ways to keep public transit relevant in the community and explore how more successful executives keep transit on the radar. They understand how to get the message out so public transit resonates in the community.
What do you like most about your job?
The environment is constantly changing. Transit professionals must keep up with economic and population changes in their region. For example, my agency had legacy bus routes that had been in place for 20 years, even though the area’s needs had changed. We reworked the system in 2008-2009: We took a longtime legacy route and turned it into a regional express service.

I also enjoy developing strategic initiatives to guide future bus and ferry ­transit decisions—where we need to grow, improve, and add infrastructure to facilitate increases in service levels.

We have a rich history of running ferry operations; in fact, our ferry operations began before the bus service did. We often assist other ferry systems with information they use in their planning and operations. The ferry is an extremely popular way for people to cross San Francisco Bay, mostly commuters from Larkspur and tourists from Sausalito.
What is unique about your agency? What would readers be surprised to learn?
Everyone around the world knows the Golden Gate Bridge, but not everyone knows about the public transit services we offer. Many think the buses and ferries are privately sponsored, but they’re actually a vital part of our operation. Without the bus and ferry systems, we would face gridlock every day with drivers trying to get in and out of San Francisco from the north. The bus, ferry, and bridge divisions all work together to help people get where they need to go.
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