The Regional Transportation District's interim CEO and general manager will have 14 months to steer the district in the right direction before RTD finds a long-term replacement.
Paul Ballard, the longtime general manager of transit agencies in Fort Worth, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; and St. Louis, came out of retirement to guide the district as it experiences driver and operator shortages and declining ridership. Ballard and RTD agreed he would helm the district for a period ranging from four to 14 months.
“My objective is to keep things going,” Ballard said. “Tackle the issues I can in the interim and make things ready for the next, permanent CEO.”
Ballard said the length of his stint will depend on the employee retention rate.
Ballard joined RTD officially Feb. 24 as a temporary replacement to former CEO/GM Dave Genova, who retired in December. Ballard said his two priorities are improving worker retention and overseeing the opening of the north commuter rail. Opening of the N Line, a 2004 FasTracks project to bring 18.5 miles of commuter rail from Union Station to Commerce City, Northglenn and Thornton, has been delayed by almost three years due to construction problems. RTD expects to open the line later this year.
Ballard said, in his experience, Denver's transit problems are unique.
“In Fort Worth, for example, we had a similar labor market to here … But somehow, we didn't have the turnover,” Ballard said. Ballard said Fort Worth's transit agency, Trinity Metro, was smaller, which made it easier to develop strong relationships within the agency.
“Obviously, there a communication problem (at RTD),” Ballard said. “That's something we have to work on. How do we communicate to our employees, make them really part of the team and (make them) understand what our goals and objectives are?”
Ballard said he plans to regularly ride different RTD bus and rail lines to hear firsthand from riders and operators.
“We have a good source of people to hire from, but somehow they're not staying,” Ballard said. “We need to study it very closely and very quickly and find out how we can improve the experience so they want to stay.
“We have to convince them to stick with it and things will get better quickly because it's not an easy job,” Ballard said.
RTD has experienced a driver shortage that has forced it to cut service across the region. On May 17, the district will make cuts to certain bus and rail lines, following a series of public open houses throughout the region, which conclude March 5.
“We talk about how we want to increase ridership. Cutting service is not going to solve that, obviously. But we have to face reality,” Ballard said. Ballard noted service cuts can have a larger impact on local businesses whose employees rely on public transit to get to work.
Ballard was optimistic about working with the Colorado Legislature, which he planned to do for the first time Feb. 25. Senate Bill 151 aims to expand RTD's board of directors by two, both governor-appointed representatives, who would advocate for the district's most vulnerable population — those with disabilities and those in disadvantaged communities.
Angie Rivera-Malpiede, chair of the RTD Board of Directors, said the board was excited to bring Ballard on in a “new era” for the district. Rivera-Malpiede thanked the public for its input in the search for the district's new CEO/GM. RTD allowed members of the community to weigh in on the five finalists for the job, announced in January. Forty people applied for the job.
“The board and I are extremely excited about all the possibilities we have moving forward,” Rivera-Malpiede said.
Rivera-Malpiede said the new executive team, voted in Jan. 7, made a point to be more transparent, beginning with the open search for an interim CEO/GM.
“I think that's a whole new era,” Rivera-Malpiede said. Rivera-Malpiede added the district's efforts to reach constituents through surveys and open houses at places like bus stops and train stations, where people “gather organically.”
“It's really a whole new way of thinking about talking to our constituents, our commuters and everybody, our staff, and we're really excited about that,” Rivera-Malpiede said. “We think Mr. Ballard will enhance that opportunity with us to work hand-in-hand.”
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