The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Board of Trustees voted today to enter negotiations with India Birdsong, a veteran of large transit systems in Chicago and Nashville, to become RTA’s next CEO/GM.
The Board voted unanimously to enter into contract negotiations with Birdsong after a nationwide search conducted with the assistance of top-ranking executive search firm Krauthamer and Associates.
“We interviewed nine excellent candidates for this job over the course of many months,” said Board member Georgine Welo, who served on the search committee. “India stood apart. She’s personable, innovative and she understands public transit at every level, from the bus garage to the executive offices. Cleveland transit riders are about to get a champion and a passionate advocate.”
Birdsong would succeed Joseph A. Calabrese, who stepped down from the CEO role in September after 18 years. Interim CEO Dr. Floun’say R. Caver will return to his role as RTA’s COO/Deputy GM of Operations.
“Floun’say agreed to serve as Interim CEO only if he could return to his old job once our search was completed. We can’t thank him enough for stepping in and keeping everything running smoothly during this search,” said RTA Board President Dennis Clough. “We’re fortunate that he and the rest of our experienced leadership team is in place to help India through a successful transition.”
Birdsong is Chief Operating Officer of WeGo Public Transit, Nashville’s public transportation authority. In that role, she’s responsible for leadership of over 550 employees, including union and administrative staffers, two garages and maintenance shops, a commuter rail line and a downtown transfer central hub.
Over the past year, the Nashville system has launched a number of improvements and initiatives, including updated bus routes with tracking services on a mobile app and tech upgrades like USB chargers and free Wi-Fi on buses.
Before joining the Nashville system in 2015, Birdsong spent nine years with the Chicago Transit Authority where she held a variety of roles, including senior manager of bus supervision and instruction for the Central Region, leading operations for a CTA Operating Division, bus operator instruction, and special events planning. She began her career there as an operations planner.
In Cleveland, Birdsong would oversee 2,300 employees and a $218 million annual budget.
Birdsong has cited her work in Chicago planning bus routes over vast areas that crossed from some of the city’s most economically challenged neighborhoods to the highest income areas of downtown as a career-defining time.
“This really fascinated me,” Birdsong told METRO Magazine, “because I started to notice how transportation connected all walks of life and how important it was for transit advocates to have a seat at the table during the beginning of the city planning process and not at the back end.”
Birdsong’s focus and emphasis on serving the people who ride the buses and trains spoke volumes to the Board, said Welo, who also serves as mayor of South Euclid.
Welo noted that the search committee sought input from the entire community as the process began and incorporated many suggestions into the job description. Besides the RTA Board, Birdsong also met with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and the executive committee of the Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association.