- Ben Wear American-Statesman Staff
Running Capital Metro, for all four of the finalists vying to be the transit agency’s president and CEO, would be a step up.
For most of them, getting this job would put them in charge of an agency with many more employees or a far larger budget than they have in their current position. And in each case, the responsibility for running Capital Metro’s 80 bus routes and one rail line — with more than 80,000 boardings a day, on average — would be a steep upgrade in transit terms from the jobs they now hold.
Still in the hunt to replace Linda Watson, who retired last month after running Capital Metro since August 2010, are:
• Randy Clarke, vice president for operations and member services with the American Public Transportation Association in Washington, D.C.
• Erika Mazza, deputy general manager with the North Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority in Flagstaff.
• Darrell Mobley, director of public works and transportation for Prince George’s County, Maryland, in Washington’s eastern suburbs.
• Raymond Suarez, chief operating officer for the Denton County Transportation Authority, northwest of Dallas.
The Capital Metro board expects to pick a winner Tuesday, after second interviews with each of the finalists on Monday and a forum later that day.
The new president and CEO will oversee a $262.4 million operating budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, along with an anticipated $151.5 million in capital spending and about 350 employees. The agency, which outsourced all of its bus, rail and paratransit operations during Watson’s tenure, oversees several contractors who hire the drivers and mechanics for the agency’s core services.
The incoming president will also inherit falling ridership, a complex and potentially fractious makeover of the agency’s bus routes, which takes effect in June, the building of a new downtown rail station, and the design and construction of a federally required train control system.
On a broader level, the agency board has made it clear that it wants a new chief with the charisma and drive to make the agency a more influential player in Central Texas transportation.
Mobley is the only one of the finalists currently running a government agency, which in his case includes a broad array of services — road maintenance, snow removal, stormwater drainage, tree trimming and litter removal — along with management of the Prince George’s County’s 28-route bus system. Mobley, who has had that county job for more than four years, spent 10 months in 2012 and 2013 as Maryland’s acting secretary of transportation. He had been the state department’s deputy secretary before that.
Maryland’s then-Gov. Martin O’Malley picked someone else for the permanent position, offering Mobley, a transportation engineer by training, a job running the Maryland Transportation Authority. Mobley took the Prince George’s public works slot instead.
There, he oversees more than 400 employees and annual spending (on all of the department’s diverse functions) of almost $90 million. The department, and thus Mobley, have only an advisory role in the construction and operation of the $2.2 billion, 16.2-mile-long Purple Line, a light rail line now being built by the state and a private consortium through Prince George’s and Montgomery counties north of Washington.
Mobley, like all of the finalists, was not available for comment this week. His office said he was busy dealing with preparations for a strong snowstorm set to hit the D.C. area Thursday.
Representatives of Clarke and Mazza said each of them had been advised by Capital Metro’s search consultant Krauthamer & Associates to refrain from talking to reporters and to refer calls to the transit agency. Suarez did not return a call from the American-Statesman.
Suarez, who has a business degree from Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth and an MBA from Phoenix University, has been directly involved in transit for much of his career, holding high positions with two Texas agencies that run passenger rail lines: his current job, essentially second in command with the Denton transit agency, and two stints earlier with Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
In his three-plus years in Denton County, Suarez had managed the 21-mile-long A-Train, a commuter rail line that hooks up in Carrollton with the Dallas light rail system. His transit authority also runs 10 regular bus routes, a University of North Texas shuttle bus system, van pools and the county’s door-to-door paratransit services for people with qualifying disabilities. Measured in terms of budget and workforce, the Denton County agency is less than a fifth as large as Capital Metro.
Even so, that dwarfs the transit agency in Flagstaff, Ariz., that Mazza helps manage. The agency, also known as the Mountain Line, runs eight bus routes and provides about 2 million rides a year in the college town. That amounts to about a fifteenth of Capital Metro’s ridership. The Mountain Line’s operating budget this year will be $8.3 million, about 3 percent of Capital Metro’s spending.
Mazza, who has an urban planning degree from Lyndon State University in Vermont and a master’s in applied economics and public policy from the University of Wyoming, has been with the Flagstaff transit agency since 2011, overseeing its planning and engineering before getting the No. 2 job at the agency in September 2015.
Only Clarke has worked at a transit agency comparable in size or larger than Capital Metro. Before going to his current job in May 2016 for an association that advocates for the transit industry, Clarke was the deputy chief operating officer with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. That agency runs trains and buses throughout the Boston region, with more than a million boardings each day, on average.
Clarke, who got a political science and history degree from Acadia University in Nova Scotia and a master’s in public policy and management from the University of Southern Maine, was involved primarily in safety and security positions in Boston. But he also managed improvements to the authority’s aging infrastructure, MBTA communications director Joe Pesaturo said. Clarke had “strong leadership skills,” said Pesaturo, adding that he worked with Clarke throughout his more than six years with the agency.
“Much to our disappointment,” he said, Clarke left the Boston job to join the association.
Comparing the candidates
Title: Vice president, operations and member services, American Public Transportation Association; previously served until April 2016 as deputy chief operating officer for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority
Agency operating budget: $2.02 billion in 2016*
Daily ridership: 1.2 million in 2016*
Employees: 7,200 in 2015*
*For the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority
Title: Deputy general manager, Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority
Agency operating budget: $8.3 million in 2018
Daily ridership: 5,500 in 2017
Employees: 75 in 2017
Title: Director, Prince George’s County (Maryland) Department of Public Works & Transportation
Agency operating budget: $87.5 million in 2018
Daily ridership: 9,300 in 2017
Employees: 406 in 2017
Title: Chief operating officer, Denton County Transportation Authority
Agency operating budget: $42.6 million in 2018
Daily ridership: 13,840 in 2017
Employees: 33 in 2018, plus 199 contract workers