Management & Operations

Being a ‘lifelong learner’ key for CapMetro’s Watson

Posted on October 9, 2017

Watson has nearly 35 years of experience in the transit industry, with more than 20 years as a CEO.
Capital Metro/Brio Photography
Watson has nearly 35 years of experience in the transit industry, with more than 20 years as a CEO.
Capital Metro/Brio Photography

Austin, Texas’ Capital Metro President/CEO Linda Watson will retire at the end of this year after more than seven years as head of the agency. She joined Capital Metro in August 2010.

Watson has nearly 35 years of experience in the transit industry, with more than 20 years as a CEO. She came to Austin from Orlando, Fla., where she held the same position at LYNX, the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority. Prior to that, she held the positions of CEO of the Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority and deputy CEO at the Fort Worth Transportation Authority.

Some key accomplishments during Watson’s tenure include stabilizing the labor structure by transitioning bus operators and maintenance staff to private contractors, overseeing the planning and implementation of improvements to MetroRail, launching MetroRapid bus rapid transit service, and breaking ground on the 10-acre Plaza Saltillo redevelopment project in East Austin.

Watson has also overseen the planning of a new and larger Downtown Station and the purchase of four new trains to increase frequency and capacity on the line, funded by a $50-million TxDOT grant. In addition, she recently directed the complete overhaul of the agency’s extensive bus system to increase frequency and reliability through a strategic long-range plan called Connections 2025. The agency also introduced one of the country’s first mobile ticketing apps in 2014, which has already sold more than $8 million in tickets and won multiple national awards for innovation.

How did you get involved in the public transportation industry?
I graduated with a master’s degree in urban and regional affairs and had an interest in city government. I learned about a grants position at the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, which was then organized under the City of Fort Worth Transportation Department. I called about the grants job one afternoon, had an interview the following morning, accepted an offer that afternoon and began work the morning after: a new career in less than 48 hours.

What did you take away from that experience?
I learned so much about transit while in Fort Worth. Like so many others in our industry, I started at the bottom and progressed from there. I had the opportunity to learn a little bit about everything involved in running a transit system. The other takeaway from that experience was the reinforcement of the idea that there is nothing better than being a lifelong learner; I learned something new every day.  

What pivotal moment in your career helped you get to where you are today?
I was humbled to be selected for the first International Transit Studies Program in 1994. The study mission included a group of about 15 transit professionals and we traveled to cities such as London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Stuttgart; cities that have long been on the forefront of advances in transportation. While the primary purpose was to learn about practices and innovations in these cities, it had a much more profound impact on me. The value of transit to people in these cities inspired me to learn even more and further my leadership career.

Name some projects/initiatives you’ve worked on that you’re proud of?  
I am very proud to have had the opportunity for team building, employee development and improvement of the credibility and image of transit in communities. The successful projects, initiatives and partnerships that build systems and services don’t happen without this.

What are some key lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?
Numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the list are relationship-building. Becoming the face of the organization makes the difference between being just another CEO and being someone that the community, the stakeholders, and the organization can trust, support, and believe in. Someone once told me, ‘I can say no to the agency, but I can’t say no to Linda.’

What are you looking forward to doing once you retire?
If anyone is looking for me, I plan to be in a small café in Paris reading Du Monde (when I learn French), oil painting, and, of course, hanging with my granddaughter in Charlotte, N.C.

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