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 Central Texas region’s transportation agency. Watson 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.
“It has been my honor and privilege to serve this community and Capital Metro as the president and CEO,” said Watson. “I’m incredibly proud of our team and what we have accomplished together and am confident that this organization and its employees are well-positioned to tackle the challenging transportation issues facing Central Texas.”
Watson is credited with turning the organization around after a 73-page Texas Sunset Advisory Commission audit completed in 2010 identified multiple areas of the agency that needed improvement. These criticisms included failure to responsibly manage finances, excessive and unsustainable in-house costs, the need to enhance the safety of commuter rail, and failure to effectively engage stakeholders. Watson brought discipline, accountability, and transparency to the organization and successfully addressed all of the issues reported in the audit.
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.
During Watson’s time at the agency, great gains were also made in relation to the agency’s financial health, with Capital Metro becoming the first transit system in Texas to earn the state comptroller’s highest level of recognition for online financial transparency. The award has been won an additional four times since.
Together with other agencies and stakeholders, Watson has been instrumental in leading the regional planning effort, called Project Connect. Its goal is to develop a system of high-capacity transit designed to address the explosive growth in Central Texas by offering more transportation choices and better connectivity into, out of, and around Central Austin.
Watson’s retirement will be effective Dec. 31. Cooper says the board plans to launch a national search for the agency’s next leader, and will appoint an interim CEO if a successor is not found by the end of the year.