Taking care of business

Op-Ed from Sunday’s Austin American-Statesman:

Watson: Capital Metro moving forward fiscally, transparently

Linda S. Watson, Local Contributor

Capital Metro is taking care of business and doing things differently these days. Some difficult but necessary budget decisions will put the organization on a stronger financial path for the future so we can continue to provide the high-quality service this community deserves.

Just like other public and private businesses and your family budget at home, we are facing tough economic times. But this is not the same Capital Metro that it was just a few years ago. We have raised the bar by strengthening our leadership, business practices and transparency. This progress is reflected in our proposed budget for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, and in the recent recognition of Capital Metro by the Texas comptroller of public accounts as a leader in local government transparency.

Through disciplined budget work, Capital Metro has reduced spending across the board by carefully scrutinizing every line item, delaying construction projects, leaving vacant positions unfilled and adjusting lower-performing bus routes. Continue reading “Taking care of business”

100 Days with Linda

“Raising the bar within the organization and improving trust and credibility out in the community.”  That’s been the mantra of Linda Watson since her arrival as our president/CEO about 100 days ago. And let me tell you, things are definitely different around here; good things are happening.

Check out KXAN’s story from last night:

Linda Watson Q&A

Great profile of our new boss in Sunday’s Austin American-Statesman:


New chief taking the helm at area’s transit agency hopes to schedule an image U-turn

tatesman transportation writer Ben Wear: Let’s start with commuter rail. Why do you think ridership has been so low so far?

Watson: First of all, you have bus and rail competing against each other. Second, people don’t understand what it is or how to use it. I’ve had so many people in just the few days I’ve been here ask me, ‘What brings you to Austin?’ And when I tell what I’m going to do, their reaction is somewhere between being impressed and being horrified. ‘You’re going to do what?’ And the second thing they say is, ‘Are you going to run that monorail? Or, that light rail?’ (Light rail, unlike the MetroRail commuter line, generally runs on city streets and has more stops.) People don’t know what it is. So part of it is an educational process. Finally, I think that if light rail had been built first, it would have been a phenomenal success. Commuter rail service is basically just catering to work trips. And you really need both to be successful. It’s kind of like building a freeway with no feeder roads into it. Continue reading “Linda Watson Q&A”

Capital Metro Board Hires Linda Watson

Linda Watson signs a 5-year contract today with the Capital Metro Board.
Linda addresses the crowd at the Capital Metro Board meeting after signing a five-year contract for president & CEO.

Today the Capital Metro Board approved the contract with Linda Watson for the position of Capital Metro president and CEO. She was on hand today at the board meeting to sign the contract.  Her first day on the job will be Aug. 16.

Chairman Mike Martinez said, “Today I am happy to welcome Linda Watson as the new CEO of Capital Metro. I look forward to working with Ms. Watson and the rest of the board to help Capital Metro provide the vital service that this community deserves. Linda will be a vital part in helping transform our agency into a world-class transit provider. I am confident Linda is the right person to get this done and help CapMetro turn the corner as we address our agency’s challenges. She has a wealth of experience, knowledge and a track record that shows she can run a transit agency that is efficient and effective.”

Linda’s contract covers a five-year term and follows the CEO Compensation Policy that the board adopted last month.

Capital Metro Board selects Linda S. Watson for CEO

The Capital Metro Board voted unanimously today at a specially-called board meeting to begin negotiations with Linda S. Watson for the position of President/Chief Executive Officer.

“After much thought and deliberation, we believe Linda is the right person to lead Capital Metro moving forward at this critical time,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, Chairman of the Board.  “We also took into consideration the feedback we received from the community; it has further solidified our choice.  I want to thank the community for providing valuable input into this process.”

Continue reading “Capital Metro Board selects Linda S. Watson for CEO”

Can’t get enough of the CapMetro CEO finalists?

At 5:45 p.m. today, Channel 6 will be airing the video of the Capital Metro CEO candidates’ meetings with board members and community leaders that occurred today at City Hall.

If you can’t watch it via Channel 6, you can watch it here. Let us know what you think.

Deborah Wathen Finn

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Linda Watson

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Watch the CEO Candidate Forum

Yesterday, the Capital Metro Board of Directors hosted a public forum with the two finalists for the CEO position, Deborah Wathen Finn and Linda S. Watson.  Members of the community were able to meet the candidates and ask some important questions about how they would lead Capital Metro.  The forum was recorded by Channel 6 and you can watch here.

Continue reading “Watch the CEO Candidate Forum”

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.

Capital Metro CEO public forum update; last call for questions

Deborah Wathen Finn and Linda S. Watson are the two finalists vying for the corner office at Capital Metro. (Click on their names to view their bios/photos.)

The two candidates will answer questions from the community on Monday, May 17, from 3-5 p.m., at IBC Bank (2817 Cesar Chavez).

Linda S. Watson will address the community and take questions from 3-4 p.m.

Deborah Wathen Finn will address the community and take questions from 4-5 p.m.

Can’t come to the forum? You can still participate. Here’s how:

1. Submit a question in advance. We’ve been collecting your questions through email, twitter (with the hashtag #capmetCEO), and here on the blog, until 4 p.m. today. We have received several interesting questions, but considering how passionate some of you are about transit, and in general how outspoken our community is, I am surprised we have not received more questions. I am sure you have a zinger of a good question–hurry and submit it!

2. Watch the public forum on Channel 6 on the following dates/times:

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.

The video will also be available to watch on demand on CapMetroBlog beginning Tuesday afternoon.

3. Give us your feedback. After you watch the forum, tell us what you thought. What moved you? (or didn’t?) Who do you think has the right stuff to lead Capital Metro? Send your comments.