Henry Li, Sacramento Regional Transit District’s (SacRT) GM/CEO was named APTA’s 2019 Outstanding Public Transportation Manager Award. Some of his accomplishments at the agency include jump-starting a comprehensive rail system modernization and expansion initiative; actively pursuing innovative solutions, such as on-demand microtransit, micromobility options, and electric and autonomous vehicles; as well as a reimagined bus network. We spoke to Li to find out, among other things, what his early career aspirations were and who in the industry inspires him.
Where were you born?
Wuhan, Hubei, China
What were your early career aspirations?
I knew at an early age I wanted to be involved in transit. I have always been fascinated with mobility. Transit and transportation are the backbone of every community. It connects people to jobs and education and improves overall quality of life. Now I am living out my aspirations as the CEO of Sacramento Regional Transit.
How has an earlier role influenced your current position?
I was a college professor several years ago in China. I was able to see firsthand the important role transit provides to so many in our communities. There were so many who were enrolled in college trying to make their lives better. To see the great lengths that so many students would travel just to attend class, opened my eyes to the importance of mobility. I wanted to make a difference and be an advocate for all.
Name one accomplishment you are proud of and why?
On September 8h, SacRT launched its reimagined bus network, SacRT Forward. While travel patterns and development has occurred, SacRT’s bus routes have not been changed for over 30 years. The comprehensive network redesign was a 2.5-year process that included hundreds of meetings with community groups, neighborhood associations, elected officials, stakeholders, riders and many more. Bus network redesigns are often controversial, but by carefully listening to the community, and making tweaks to the network, we were able to win unanimous Board approval of our proposed network at the end of February 2019. So far, the feedback on our new network has been extremely positive and we have seen an increase in ridership on bus over the same time period last year.
What moment/event had a profound effect on your career?
When I first arrived in Sacramento, SacRT was struggling financially, maligned with a reputation of being unsafe and unreliable. At the same time, a new downtown arena was finishing construction, placing a spotlight on downtown and SacRT’s transit services. Because of the importance of the new arena to the business community residents and all Sacramentans, I knew this was our opportunity to change the image of SacRT and show the region what transit can be. We formed a business advisory task force in the months leading up to the arena opening and we developed implementation and contingency plans. We rallied all SacRT staff to volunteer and be a part of the historic moment. That was when I knew that this community could be special and that we had what it was going to take to elevate SacRT to new heights.
Discuss a current project.
On October 1st, SacRT launches a new initiative, Ryde Free SacRT. All K-12 students living in SacRT’s service area will be able to ride our fixed-route bus and light rail as well as microtransit service. We believe it is the first program of this size and scope in the nation to make all students free any day any time throughout the system. The new initiative is a one-year pilot and we hope it will boost ridership, improve school attendance and help displace thousands of cars off our roadways each day.
Who in the industry inspires you?
I have had the privilege of working for Nathaniel Ford, the current CEO of Jacksonville Transit Authority (JTA). Nat and I both worked at MARTA in Atlanta prior to join JTA, so I got to see firsthand his leadership style and his intimate knowledge about the transit industry. He is tenacious in his pursuit of excellence on all fronts. I also am inspired by his ability to understand the most complex issues and come up with creative solutions.