Randy Clarke grew up in Pictou, Nova Scotia, a tiny coastal town with no buses and no passenger rail.
But Friday, after the Capital Metro board had voted to make the transit association executive its next president and CEO, board chairman Wade Cooper said it was Clarke’s subsequent life and work in the big city that made the difference.
“The board was very excited about Randy’s experience in Boston, at a large, complex transit agency,” Cooper said, referring to the six-plus years that Clarke, 40, spent rising through the ranks of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the country’s fifth largest transit provider with more than 1 million bus and train boardings a day. Clarke eventually became deputy chief operating officer, after leading engineering and security operations for the Boston agency.
And Cooper said that Clarke’s almost two years since as vice president of member services at the Washington-based American Public Transportation Association, the leading transit trade group with offices just a few blocks from the White House, gave him crucial experience with federal regulators and a valuable 50,000-foot view of the industry.
“He really a good grasp of what’s going on in transit,” Cooper said. “And he certainly brings a lot of energy.”
Clarke said in a brief interview Friday that he and his wife, who live in the Georgetown area near the Potomac River, “couldn’t be more excited to move to Austin.” The couple, Clarke had said earlier this week in a final public audition for the job, met on the Red Line subway in Boston.
An early priority for him, Clarke said: executing cleanly what is likely to be a disruptive bus route overhaul in mid-June, a massive change in routes and bus frequencies conceived to combat Capital Metro’s falling ridership in recent years.
The CEO vote, taken after the Capital Metro board spent two hours discussing four finalists in closed session, was 7-0, with board member and Austin City Council Member Delia Garza abstaining. The board then took a second vote to authorize contract negotiations with Clarke, and Garza joined the others in a unanimous vote on that.
Garza later said she would have preferred to award the job to “a well-qualified woman,” meaning Erika Mazza, the only woman finalist and an executive with a small transit agency in Northern Arizona.
Clarke’s hiring will be contingent on Capital Metro reaching contract terms with him in negotiations over the next couple of weeks. The board likely will vote on that contract Jan. 29. And after that?
“We’re expecting him soon,” Cooper said. “There’s no particular hangup in getting him over here.”
Cooper said the board has communicated its salary parameters to its search consultant, Krauthamer & Associates, which will be negotiating on its behalf with Clarke, but that he declined to say what those might be. Former CEO Linda Watson, who retired Dec. 31, made $363,900 in her final year.
Capital Metro board members had said last year, when the job opening occurred, that they wanted a new leader who through force of personality would give the agency a more prominent place in Central Texas transportation. Clarke said at a public forum Monday in Austin that he considers advocacy a priority.
“The key here is not necessarily that the CEO of Cap Metro is the genius that has all the solutions,” he said. “I wouldn’t be coming in with that mindset. But the CEO has to be a visible leader. If you’re going to have this role, you should be a proponent of transit … It’s about articulating a vision, and getting buy-in.”
Clarke got a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from Acadia University in another small Nova Scotia town, Wolfville, and a master’s in public policy, planning and management at the University of Southern Maine, where he wrote his thesis on the use of “intelligent transportation systems” in emergency management.
Clarke will supervise 350 employees at Capital Metro, along with several outside contractors who run day-to-day bus and rail operations and provide the drivers and mechanics. Capital Metro, with a combined operating and capital budget this year of more than $400 million and average daily ridership of more than 83,000 boardings, has about 80 bus routes, a commuter rail line, van pools, and door-to-door bus service for people with qualifying disabilities.
The incoming president will also inherit falling ridership, the upcoming makeover of the agency’s bus routes in June, the building of a new downtown rail station, and the design and construction of a federally required train control system for MetroRail.
Past Capital Metro leaders
Alan Wulkan, 1985 to March 1987
Norma Robinson (interim), April 1987 to May 1987
Anthony Kouneski, May 1987 to November 1993
Ben Gomez (interim), November 1993 to June 1994
Michael Bolton, June 1994 to April 1996
Justin Augustine III, April 1996 to December 1997
Gerald Robichaux (interim), December 1997 to October 1998
Karen Rae, October 1998 to February 2002
Fred Gilliam, February 2002 to October 2009
Doug Allen (interim), October 2009 to August 2010
Linda Watson, August 2010 to December 2017
Elaine Timbes (current interim president and CEO), January 2018