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Monday, January 15, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

Experience put Capital Metro CEO finalist over the top

The chair of the board at the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority said experience was the deciding factor when it came to selecting a lone finalist to take the executive reins.

On Friday, after the board voted 7-0-1 to tap Randy Clarke to replace former CEO and President Linda Watson, Chair Wade Cooper said Clarke’s background at Boston’s transit agency as well as his time with the Washington, D.C.-based American Public Transportation Association put him over the top.

“We feel like his operational experience, his capital project experience, and now his time at APTA really gives him a great knowledge base to help take Cap Metro to the next level,” Cooper said.

In addition to Clarke, the board’s other finalists included Raymond Suarez of the Denton County Transportation Authority, Erika Mazza of the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority and Darrell Mobley, director of the Department of Public Works and Transportation in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Lasting approximately two hours, the board’s deliberation was somewhat longer than expected. Cooper explained that the discussion was “thorough” and without rancor.

“Each of the board members brings a different perspective and I think we had very good dialogue around that,” he said. “It wasn’t ‘12 Angry Men.’ No scars; I think I’m still intact.”

Nonetheless, Council Member Delia Garza abstained from selecting Clarke as the finalist. In a statement sent out on Friday afternoon, she said the board had before it “an impressive slate of candidates.”

She continued: “But for me, in this moment where women are turning the tide on generations of suppression and discrimination, I preferred the option that would have given a well-qualified woman the opportunity to lead. That being said, I believe Mr. Clarke will do great things for this agency and I look forward to working with him.”

In a conference call with reporters from his D.C. office, Clarke said he is “unbelievably grateful” for the board’s decision and is confident in contract negotiations that are planned to produce a final agreement for the board’s approval on Jan. 29. Although his first day on the job is still to be determined, the 40-year-old native of Nova Scotia said he is eager to move to central Texas.

“It’s a diverse type of active community. We’re really excited to move to Austin and make it our new home,” Clarke said.

If all goes according to plan, when Clarke takes over, he will find an agency facing a number of significant issues and challenges. As Cooper put it, “He’s going to be drinking from a fire hydrant for a while.”

The agency is preparing to roll out a completely redesigned bus network in June that will feature more frequent routes, an initiative aimed at goosing sagging ridership. Clarke explained that he will prioritize making sure that package of service changes is delivered.

He will also inherit the Project Connect process, the planning effort to determine potential high-capacity transit investments. The agency is expected to announce specific project proposals this spring before moving on to explore funding options.

In the meantime, Capital Metro will also be racing to install on its MetroRail line federally mandated safety enhancements known as positive train control. Congress has set the deadline to have operational PTC online by the end of 2018, though the agency can apply for a two-year extension.

Cooper suggested that Clarke’s role with APTA in the nation’s capital will be handy when it comes to navigating those kinds of tough bureaucratic obstacle courses.

“I think having a guy who has the experience he does will advance our credibility at Congress and with the feds,” said Cooper.

During his courtship of Capital Metro, Clarke visited Austin a couple of times and tried out the agency’s various services. He gushed about the high quality of service provided by the bus drivers (who are technically employed by third-party contractors) but allowed that his experience wasn’t perfect.

“I think there’s always room for improvement, and while the staff is obviously doing a great job now, we should always be striving to continually do better and better,” he said. “That’s just the nature of a good progressive business.”

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Capital Metro: The city’s urban transportation system.

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