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CEOs Share Experiences

Public transit agencies should learn from other governmental agencies and determine how they can work together to achieve common goals, Ken McDonald, chief executive officer of Long Beach (CA) Transit (LBT), said at the May 5 “CEOs Report” session.

McDonald explained how LBT partnered with the city, the Port of Long Beach and Long Beach Airport to create the “Better Together” partnership. Goals of the partnership, he said, are “safety and service quality, financial accountability, employee engagement, enhanced customer experience and a focus on the community and the industry.”

The idea for “Better Together” came from the realization that, while different agencies have different functions, they all have the same forward-looking purpose for the city, McDonald said. LBT serves a 98-square-mile service area across 12 cities and operates four water taxis along with its bus fleet.

“For us, working together is a really great opportunity for the city,” he said. The partnership allows the agencies to expand innovative investments and promote sustainability collectively, such as by reducing fossil fuel use. 

“By working together in partnership, we increase the effectiveness of all partners,” McDonald emphasizes. “Before Better Together, we were all working separately on expansion and maintenance efforts. Now we’ve tripled the impact of what we’re doing by working together and collaborating for investment in transportation and infrastructure.”

Paul Ballard, president/chief executive officer of the host system, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, talked about the current politicization of public transit, which he said he has not seen before in his four decades in the industry.

“This had never been a Democrat-Republican issue before,” he said, noting the negative impact he has seen from out-of-town organizations on public transit initiatives in a community.

He mentioned that public transit is becoming an integral part of communities outside major cities, adding, “People don’t ask if you have transit, they ask where it is.”

Curtis Stitt, president/chief executive officer, Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), Columbus, said his agency is “doing things that suggest that we are not your traditional transit agency,” including the free CBUS downtown circulator and new reverse commute service from Columbus to a business park about 20 miles away. COTA is also developing a BRT line.
One new idea for COTA, according to Stitt, is a pass program that ultimately will cover about 42,000 employees who work in a downtown special improvement district. Office space in many downtown buildings is vacant because of a shortage of available parking for employees. COTA’s pass program, beginning on a pilot basis with about 1,100 employees, will make downtown a more desirable location by increasing transit use while reducing traffic and the need for parking. The area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization is partnering with COTA on this project.

“The environment in which we operate means we have to challenge ourselves to do things differently and make sure the community knows we’re worth their investment,” Stitt said. “We’re doing creative things in Columbus in line with our strategic vision: aligning our goals with the goals of the greater community.”

Carl Sedoryk, general manager/chief executive officer of Monterey-Salinas (CA) Transit (MST), described how his agency serves both urban and rural areas, including the region that grows 85 percent of salad greens available in the U.S. During harvest season, he said, the population of Salinas increases dramatically.

“We’ve depended on a lot of partnerships to continue funding,” he said, noting that the first local sales tax to fund the agency goes into effect in July.

Sedoryk mentioned rural communities in his service area that have not recovered from the 2008 recession, with unemployment reaching 20 percent. “We can maintain our ridership during periods of economic distress,” he said, by reaching out to people who do not have driver’s licenses or access to a car.

Patrick J. Scully, chair, APTA Business Member Board of Governors, and executive vice president, sales and marketing, for Motor Coach Industries, moderated the session.


Participants at the CEO's Report session, from left: Ken McDonald, Paul Ballard, Curtis Stitt and Carl Sedoryk.

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