“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.” - Theodore Roosevelt.
As I begin a new chapter in my career, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on my time as CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA). Last week, I retired from public service and this month will assume the role of executive director of Transportation California, a statewide nonprofit association dedicated to transportation advocacy and education.
With my time at OCTA having come to a close, the questions I am asking myself are, ‘Did I make a positive contribution to the organization?’ and ‘Have I left it in better shape than when I arrived?’
To say it was a somber environment when I began my tenure at OCTA is an understatement. When I joined the agency in August 2009, sales tax was plummeting, forcing us to reduce bus service, lay off employees and re-evaluate our Measure M2 program, Orange County’s half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements.
But what began as one of my biggest challenges as CEO turned into some of our agency’s greatest accomplishments. We successfully managed through one of the most difficult economic downturns in our nation’s history and in the end came out a stronger agency. Today, OCTA is fiscally sound, beginning to restore some service and the agency is operating more efficiently.
As we dealt with the difficulties of the economy, we also had to remain focused on delivering what we promised to the voters under Measure M2. The program is now anticipated to provide $14.5 billion for transportation improvements — some $10 billion less than originally expected.
Since 2009, OCTA has delivered, brought to construction or initiated approximately $2 billion worth of construction projects in the county. In addition, we have had to ensure we could complete all the Measure M2 projects, despite the decline in sales tax revenues. That was accomplished through the M2020 plan, which will carry OCTA from today through the next decade by bonding and sequencing projects to manage the cash flow. Two-thirds of OCTA’s freeway projects will be under construction by 2020 with the remaining projects environmentally cleared.
The core element to being able to tackle the recession and prepare for delivery of the Measure M2 program was unifying OCTA’s workforce. During my tenure, we developed OCTA’s first five-year strategic plan and implemented a performance-based management structure as well as encouraged unity among the agency’s staff. Two-thirds of our employees operate within the transit division, but OCTA also has contracted and administrative staff and bringing these groups together has played an essential role in maintaining and enhancing employee morale.
It is with mixed emotions that I leave behind an agency comprised of truly remarkable individuals. I have continually been impressed, encouraged and motivated by our dedicated team.
With my days at OCTA at an end, I am confident that the agency is a stronger, more efficient organization and is well prepared to continue delivering services, projects and programs that impact millions of people each year.
In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "Sustainability programs: A triple (bottom line) threat'" here.
At the Denton County (Texas) Transportation Authority (DCTA), we’re constantly looking for unique ways to engage with passengers, generate brand awareness and increase ridership. This year with Valentine’s Day being on a Saturday, we saw a great opportunity to launch a campaign in which passengers could ride DCTA’s A-train commuter rail and Connect Bus for free on Valentine’s Day all day by saying “Be Mine” to the agency’s rail and bus operators. With low-trending ridership in February, we needed to find a way to increase ridership and brand awareness within Denton County and surrounding cities. Launching the Valentine’s Day promotion definitely would help us achieve this.
Seeing a canine passenger on mass transit is not uncommon, but the reasons why a dog might catch the train or hop a bus are varied (remember Eclipse, the Seattle Lab mix that uses the bus, often on her own, to get to the dog park?). Most public transit pooches are working —as K-9 officers or service animals. In the Philadelphia region, other animals — in approved carriers only—are permitted to ride the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s buses, trains and trolleys. However, a new pilot program underway by SEPTA allows registered therapy dogs volunteering at two Philadelphia hospitals to use two designated bus routes to travel to their sites.
To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.
The Uber website proudly states that, “Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 200 cities today, Uber's rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.” Such hype is common on corporate websites, but when the braggadocio is backed up by an article in the Wall Street Journal that discloses a valuation of $41 billion their ambitious words take on relevance.
As the world changes with the rapid advancement of connected devices and technologies, so must the transportation industry. In a business area where change is sluggish, DOTs across the country must adapt quickly to the evolving technologies that are going to impact their operations and budget. There are at least three technologies that will have immense impact over the next two decades on how we travel and how state transportation departments react to provide mobility — connectedness, big data and automation.