Watson and Wathen Finn address Austin riders

**Updated** Send us your feedback from the forum. Who has the best goods to lead Capital Metro?

The candidates for Capital Metro’s new CEO addressed the community this afternoon at a public forum. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions via the blog, twitter, and email. In addition to the questions posed by attendees at the forum, two questions were selected from the pool of questions received in advance–one for each candidate. As promised, we are posting the candidates’ answers to those questions below. You’ll be able to see their responses to all questions via Channel 6’s broadcasts of the forum:

Tuesday, May 18 at 1 p.m.
Thursday, May 20 at 9 a.m.
Friday, May 21 at 3 p.m.
Saturday, May 22 at 7 p.m.
Monday, May 24 at 9 a.m.

For Linda S. Watson:
Why would you want to leave Central Florida Regional Transit Authority in light of the high speed rail program going on there, making Orlando the hub of that project?

Well that’s a good question, and Erik, wherever you are, I’ve asked myself that many times. I love Central Florida. It’s a great place to live, and I have made great friends there. We’ve had many successes and it’s been very difficult this last week with the community knowing you’re looking at another position. I can’t even tell you the emails and phone calls and conversations I’ve had with people. It makes it difficult to look at anywhere else.

I have to say I absolutely love Texas, and I’ve lived most of my life here. If I were to pick any city in the state to live in, it would be Austin. You all know, you’re here. It’s a fabulous place to live. The reason I’m interested in this position in this community in addition to it being in Austin Texas, is the opportunity to make a huge difference in this transit system.  Many of the problems and issues that are on the table right now are very similar to situations I have gone through particularly in Central Florida, and I’ve been successful at resolving those issues and making improvements. One of the things is working externally in the community, with the stakeholders, having a more open transparency and type of leadership. You tend to want to do the kinds of things you’re good at,  and those are things I’ve found that I’m good at, I enjoy it. I see the opportunity to have some big successes here. I had to come here, talk to the board, to see if they were fully committed to making the kinds of decisions that need to be made to fix some of the issues that you all know about. I believe they are.

Put all of that together with bluebonnets and cowboy boots and barbeque and all those other things thrown in makes this just a really attractive opportunity and place for me to be. Just one more comment–you have dedicated sales tax for funding transit. In Central Florida, I go to three counties and the city of Orlando every single year to ask for funding so that’s challenging, and having a lone revenue source and an approximate amount of what it’s going to be would be a very nice change for me.

For Deborah Wathen Finn:
What, if any, historical similarities/challenges to NJ Transit’s rail expansion do you see with the Red Line for MetroRail? The NJ transit system’s predominant purpose is to bring people to/from suburbs into downtown NYC; how does increasing urban density and limiting of urban sprawl fit into your view of transit?

That’s a great question. New Jersey Transit is statewide, and there are only three statewide transit agencies in the country. And we were originally set up to provide services in the urban core, but in fact there’s more and more jobs out in the suburbs so we really worked on connectivity. When we first set up NJ Transit we had a separate bus company and a separate rail company and that was about the time that I went back to do hands on work, and the customers were like, “Why can’t I get on the bus when the train isn’t working, and vice versa?” So we started integrating services, doing cross-fare honoring and looking at where we could leverage existing service and make those connections. Those are lessons learned.  I certainly learned a lesson about how you run an institution with the highest professionalism. There are lessons to be learned, it’s really about how you interface with your community, understand that and also prioritize.

It’s hard to make an analogy to the Red Line–except there is an analogy, which I’ll come back to–but I would say that I got a lot of experience in how to deal with the various modes of public transportation, and as you all are contemplating the vision for what could be possible here, I have a little experience, and I’ve done work in other cities, too, so I could bring that to bear here. And there are some lessons learned in how you interface with FRA, how you choose light rail vs. commuter rail. I certainly know that very well. But there is a wonderful parallel in New Jersey, and that’s the River Line, which is a service that runs from Trenton. It’s a diesel light rail vehicle. It’s one of the first ones, and one of the gentlemen that I do business with in my consulting practice is running that system right now. So, New Jersey Transit has done a lot of work around shared access with freight and with service. I know a little bit about that line, and I have a direct line to the people who have done some very good work there so that would be another parallel.

One thought on “Watson and Wathen Finn address Austin riders

  1. transit expert

    After reading the above, between these two tooting their
    own horns (pun intended?), Finn barely
    answers the question.

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