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Meet Jarod Varner!

Jarod Varner
Executive Director
Rock Region METRO
North Little Rock, AR
Member, APTA Board of Directors, Marketing and Communications, Small Operations and Bus Operations committees; Leadership APTA Class of 2009

Please describe your agency’s scope..

Rock Region METRO is the public transit system serving nearly three million passengers per year in the cities of Little Rock, North Little Rock, Maumelle, Jacksonville and Sherwood and Pulaski County, AR. Created in 1986 with an inter-local agreement among these jurisdictions, Rock Region METRO is governed by a 12-member board of directors appointed by the cities and county.

Services include METRO Local, a fixed-route bus service serving Pulaski County; River Rail Streetcar, a streetcar system operating in Little Rock and North Little Rock; and METRO Links, our paratransit service. Rock Region METRO employs almost 200 Arkansans and is the largest public transit agency in Arkansas.

How long have you been employed in the industry? What drew you to the industry?

I began my career in the public transit industry in 2005 as an intern. The internship, a requirement of the graduate program I completed, quickly transitioned to a full-time position in what was a new and growing transit agency.

The transit industry became a natural fit given the opportunity to serve others, which I was drawn to, and the clear need for young professionals to balance an aging industry. Starting my career with a newly created small agency with an aggressive strategic plan exposed my coworkers and me to unique opportunities to learn and experience all that the transit industry had to offer.

Please describe your involvement with APTA and note what’s rewarding about it.

APTA has played a central role in my transit career. I’ve been blessed to have received an APTF scholarship, participate in Leadership APTA and now serve on the APTA Board of Directors.

It is safe to say that I would not have spent the last 11 years and committed the remainder of my career to transit if not for APTA. Participating in ­Leadership APTA at the age of 28 allowed me to build a solid leadership base and make lifelong friends. Being allowed to serve on the board of directors has provided a wonderful opportunity to play a small role in leading the direction of our industry.

The most rewarding aspect of APTA participation is the ability to interact, learn from and support fellow transit industry professionals.

What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource? Which one helps you do your job?
The most valuable benefit of APTA participation is the development of relationships. APTA conferences, online forums and webinars are connectors that make it easy to share experiences and learn from the best and brightest in our industry for the benefit of those we serve on a daily basis.

Please explain why or how this has helped.
It is rare that a transit agency faces a challenge that a colleague hasn’t successfully navigated. As a relatively new CEO, I’ve found myself relying on APTA staff and ­fellow conference/work session attendees as aids in decision-making.

The citizens we serve in central Arkansas have benefited from the collective ­wisdom of the APTA community as we apply lessons learned to the challenges we face and the services we offer.

What do you like most about your job?

The aspect of my position that I most appreciate is the opportunity to collaborate with diverse groups within our community. In my position, I’m able to develop an understanding of the needs of academic institutions, chambers of commerce, state agencies, local governments, social service agencies and many other groups that are all stakeholders and beneficiaries of the services we offer.

This collaboration allows our board of directors and the amazing staff we’ve assembled to exceed the expectations of our community by seeing beyond the doorways of our buses and streetcars.

What is unique about your agency? What would readers be surprised to learn?

In the early 1990s, Rock Region METRO, formerly Central Arkansas Transit Authority, had arguably the oldest fleet and most rundown facility in the nation. The authority regularly received hand-me-down buses from other agencies that had passed their useful life. Facilities were not designed for bus maintenance and lacked basic necessities.

Despite these adverse conditions, the team almost never missed a single pullout and today our fleet and facilities are modern and include the latest in technology. The ability to accomplish great things for our customers with limited resources remains a core component of our culture.
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