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Women In Transportation: Katrina Heineking

Posted on September 22, 2011 by Joanne Tucker, Assistant Editor

With Tucson, Ariz.-based Sun Tran/Sun Van since 2004, Heineking is involved in the planning of a modern streetcar that will connect the University of Arizona to downtown Tucson.
With Tucson, Ariz.-based Sun Tran/Sun Van since 2004, Heineking is involved in the planning of a modern streetcar that will connect the University of Arizona to downtown Tucson.
Katrina Heineking, GM of Sun Tran in Tucson, Ariz., dreamed of being a "boss" — at least she always played one with her friends growing up. And after entering the transportation world in 1995, she has been just that.

Before beginning her career, Heineking started as an intern for the mayor's office in Athens, Ohio. The job turned long term, and she stayed for almost 10 years, learning grant writing as the grants and procurement officer. She also spent this time getting her bachelor's degree in business management at Northwood University in Missouri.

Adding another dimension to her life, Heineking was starting a family at this point as well.

"I was the first female on my mother's side to get a college degree, but I certainly wouldn't recommend the path I took to earn it," she says. "I wish I could've done it the easier way, rather than trying to be a wife, sister, daughter and mother, and working on my career all at the same time."

Her first job in the transit industry — GM of South East Area Transit in Zanesville, Ohio — was made possible through networking. While working on a transportation grant at her city job, she became active in the Ohio Public Transit Association, where she was later awarded "Transit Person of the Year" in 2000. Heineking credits her position at Zanesville for gaining a substantial foundation in transportation management. She says there was no official orientation program, "So you just had to feel your way through what the issues were and how the culture was, making it a great learning opportunity."

Zanesville's fleet and staff tripled under Heineking. She also worked to fix the finances, which were in dire shape upon her arrival.

"When I was hired, someone forgot to tell me that the budget was in a bit of a deficit," she says. "Within the first month I was getting a loan to make payroll, so it was an interesting challenge."

To make it work and balance the budget, Heineking says it was all about stepping outside the box — a kind of creativity that has been an advantage in all her career positions. She had businesses sponsor buses and offered employee shuttles. She also coordinated with an area transportation agency to pool resources. At one point, she worked on 13 grants simultaneously.

Heineking and her family then moved to Charlotte, N.C., where she became assistant GM at Charlotte Area Transit System. Just two years after starting, she and her husband decided to return to Ohio, where her husband could work on his career.

"It didn't take long before we figured out that I was not great as a stay at home mom," Heineking says. "I went from going nonstop, to then being at home and wanting to pounce on the first person that walked in the door."

She began reaching out to colleagues to see if there were any opportunities in transit. In 2004, Professional Transit Management contacted Heineking to work at Sun Tran. She compares her current role to her position at Zanesville. "It's a much larger system, but we are still forced to think creatively to overcome budget challenges," she says.       

Besides a recent RTA sales tax that has helped to increase revenue, in Tucson, Ariz., there is no dedicated transit funding, so the agency competes directly with other public services like police and fire.

Though, with the new sales tax funding, Heineking has been able to open a bus maintenance facility that has achieved Gold LEED Certification. Along with technology changes such as adding smartcard fare boxes and live bus tracking, she is also involved in the planning of a modern streetcar that will connect the University of Arizona to downtown Tucson. The streetcar is expected to be operational at the end of 2013.

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