Management & Operations

COTA’s Stitt on ‘understanding who you serve’

Posted on October 10, 2017

Stitt oversaw the implementation of a downtown circulator, an airport shuttle and redesign of the bus system.
Stitt oversaw the implementation of a downtown circulator, an airport shuttle and redesign of the bus system.

Having served 18 years at the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), including the past five as president/CEO, W. Curtis Stitt retired on Sept. 30, 2017.

Appointed to lead COTA on Feb. 1, 2012, Stitt oversaw the transformation of public transit in Central Ohio, including a downtown circulator, an airport shuttle, and a comprehensive redesign of the entire bus network.

How did you get involved in the industry?
Much like many of my industry colleagues I’ve met over the last 19 years, it was something that happened, as opposed to something that was planned. Most of the folks I’ve worked with didn’t go to school and study any particular major to work in public transit, but one way or another we’ve all found ourselves working in this industry. Like them, once I started working in public transportation, I fell in love with it.

What do you take away from your experience?
A sense of gratification. I feel proud of the work we do for this community. I think I’ve always known the value of public transportation from a personal perspective. However, I never looked at it from the perspective of the value that public transportation brings to a community and the role that it plays in helping to ensure quality of life for people. Over these last 19 years, I have experienced with our riders and with our community the growing impact that public transportation has on our growth and development as a region.

What pivotal moment in your career helped you get to where you are today?
I don’t know if there was a singular moment, but I believe there was a sustained effort by a person who I consider a mentor, Bill Lhota (COTA president/CEO 2004 to 2012), who in his own unassuming way convinced me that I was the right person to succeed him. Bill had a great way of promoting people, not from position to position, but promoting the value that individual brings to the organization and the community, and communicating that to other people. Bill did that for me, positioning me to be more effective than I otherwise would have been. That sustained effort has helped me to be effective in leading this group of people at COTA who have worked so hard to fulfill our responsibilities to this community.

What projects/initiatives are you proud of?
• CBUS, the free circulator connecting Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods that helped with economic development and residential development in that corridor.
• AirConnect, an express service that provides an additional affordable, fast option for traveling between the airport and Downtown.
• CMAX, central Ohio’s first bus rapid transit line, launching in January 2018.
• The GREAT partnership with the City of Groveport and Village of Obetz providing last-mile service that connects expanded COTA service to over 20,000 jobs in the Rickenbacker area.
• And the SmartRide partnership with the City of New Albany, where the city provides last-mile service connecting COTA’s service to at least 15,000 jobs in the New Albany International Business Park.

What key lessons have you learned?
In order to do the best job, you have to understand who you serve and advocate for them. In this business you have to be engaged with people at all levels — from those who work in the C-suite to those who ride the bus, because they depend on public transit, and everyone in between. If you can do this effectively, you will ensure that the people who often feel that they have no voice are connected with the policy and decisionmakers.

What are doing once you retire?
Whatever I want to. I consider myself pretty low maintenance, and don’t have any exciting plans besides traveling to see family. I’m retiring now because I’m young enough, healthy enough, and have put in enough time to be able to afford to retire now and enjoy the next chapter in life. Whether that includes taking another job that I know I would thoroughly enjoy, or just doing things that are much more relaxing, I’m looking forward to exploring what that next chapter will be over the next several months.

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