Miami-Dade Bus Fleet Enhancements Help Curb Costs, Emissions

Posted on April 26, 2011 by Janna Starcic, Executive Editor

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arpal S. Kapoor, who took on the role of director of Miami-Dade Transit in 2007, was instrumental in the transit system's decision to move toward diesel-electric hybrid buses. 
arpal S. Kapoor, who took on the role of director of Miami-Dade Transit in 2007, was instrumental in the transit system's decision to move toward diesel-electric hybrid buses. 
Q&A: Harpal S. Kapoor

Miami-Dade Transit (MDT) Director Harpal S. Kapoor heads the largest transit system in Florida and the 14th largest in the U.S. He is thought to be the first Indian-born Sikh to head a major U.S. transit system — one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse in the nation. Kapoor first joined MDT as a rail vehicle electronic technician in 1985. After rising to various positions within MDT, he left to join the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority as an assistant manager of bus engineering. He rejoined MDT in 2006 as deputy director of operations and was appointed director of the transit system in 2007.

METRO: How did you first get involved in transit?

Kapoor: When I was in India, I worked for Larsen & Toubro, a consulting company specializing in welding repairs of critical components of railroad and automotive industry for transit. That's how I started in transit at that time. I'm actually a mechanical engineer and specialized in the metallurgical field.

In 1984 I immigrated to the U.S. — my sister lived here. But when I came to Miami, I couldn't find a job; the only job I could find was in transit. So in 1985, I started as a heavy rail technician with Miami-Dade Transit. I loved it so much that I stayed in it.

METRO: Looking back at your original role as a technician, what experiences or values do you bring to your current position?

Kapoor: Troubleshooting is one experience. I was a mainline technician [so, for example, if there is a problem with a train] and you have only five minutes to move it, because the next train is coming behind you, you have to know the solutions, you have to troubleshoot and you have to make decisions quickly. Also, with that type of ground-level maintenance experience, I always know that something could always be improved.

As a director, I [ask myself] how would the technician feel? I give goals for them so they can achieve and improve by getting to the next level. That technician job gave me that experience about certain goals [such as] how would I feel if someone wanted an unrealistic goal of having 10 trains fixed in four hours.

You also have to think about the customer. I have to fix the train not so my boss will be happy, but so that the customer will not be impacted. The customer should be on time. I took those values from that [way of thinking] to the top level. I make sure that my direct reports understand it as well, and I have them visit the maintenance shops or construction sites to see exactly what's going on.

METRO: Did you ever think you would one day lead this agency?

Kapoor: To be honest I never imagined it. It's the American dream though. I came here with $50 in my pocket in '84 — I'm a U.S. citizen now. My two sons have grown up here. My wife and I said, 'This is America, you can do anything if you are honest and want to work hard — the sky is the limit!'

I never imagined that I would be the director of an organization where I started at the bottom. It's the immigrants' dream and I have lived and experienced it.

METRO: What keeps you awake at night with regard to MDT?

Kapoor: Safety and the customers. I don't want a major accident. I do get a 12:00 and 4:00 a.m. analysis update on my Blackberry every day of where we are — how many escalators are working, how many buses and trains are available. My goal is 100 percent service every day. That's the bottom line for everybody.

METRO: What are you most excited about with regard to MDT?

Kapoor: The diversity and the challenges. It's not the money, but it's that you have achieved something and you feel good about it. We have done a cultural shift in the last five years here. What the team brings to the table and how each member interacts with each other is important for the success of the organization.

There have been many challenges, and there will continue to be challenges. We take it one day at a time. We have achieved a lot and I have to thank the entire organization, starting from the employees who do the fueling, cleaning, and fixing of buses and trains, to my direct reports, the Mayor and the Board of County Commissioners, who have made an impossible task possible.


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