Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Transit CEO Brings New Attitude in Her First Year

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Transit CEO Brings New Attitude in Her First Year

Article excerpt

It was a busy first year for Katharine Eagan Kelleman as CEO at the Port Authority.

In 12 months, Ms. Kelleman navigated her way through issues that began before her hire, such as whether to start cashless fares on the T (no), use armed officers for fare enforcement (no) and cut suburban service and force transfers in Oakland on the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system (no and no).

Along the way, she dealt with flooding in the South Hills and a Norfolk Southern train derailment that caused problems for the agency's light-rail service. She also has revamped the agency's top staff and started new processes such as long-term planning, branding the agency and improving on-time service.

But mostly, she's become the public face of an agency that didn't have one.

Ms. Kelleman started the first week of January, arriving here with a five-year contract at a base salary of $230,000 after nearly four years heading the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority in Tampa, Fla. She brought a strong transportation planning background to an agency that had spent the previous three years stabilizing its finances after years of service reductions due to cuts in state funding.

"I would not be here if it wasn't for the good financial work done before me," Ms. Kelleman said, praising her predecessor, Ellen McLean. "It was a very clean slate to come into. I'm very happy to be here, where what I'm good at [service planning] is what we need."

Within weeks, she was a common sight whether in public riding the T to work most days from the South Hills or donning hard-toe shoes to visit authority garages and light-rail maintenance facilities to familiarize herself with the system and spread her message that the transit system's goal is to be great.

At the beginning of March, the agency passed out 3,000 flashlights to workers on national Employee Appreciation Day to encourage them to show the way to improvements. About 60 employees volunteered to march with the agency's first-in-recent-memory St. Patrick's Day-themed bus.

"From my second day here, [employees] were delighted to hear someone say we could be excellent, we could do well," Ms. Kelleman said. "I was surprised how quickly they came on board with the idea we can do more and do better."

Authority spokesman Adam Brandolph said the new CEO's positive attitude is contagious.

"Katherine brought an energy," he said. "It's lead by example. She's excited to be here and that's obvious."

Here's an example of how that change has carried over to some employees: In years past, the agency might have one or two buses or light-rail vehicles voluntarily decorated by drivers and their co-workers for the holidays, but there are more than a dozen this year. The agency regularly gets positive comments from riders about them.

"We didn't bring the esprit de corps, but we allowed it to come out," said Ms. Kelleman, who regularly takes her young sons with her to visit garages on holidays to show the agency's appreciation of their efforts. Her "C Suite," her eight top managers, all have hard-toe shoes to join her in the visits.

She's revamped that top management staff and added diversity, changing from five members that had one minority and no women to eight members with three minorities and two women. Overall, Ms. Kelleman's first budget added $3.7 million for 40 new positions, including 15 administrators.

The three new administrative positions: chief development officer David Huffaker, who's in charge of long-range planning; chief information officer Jeffrey Devlin, who oversees computer operations, including fare payment systems and development of a mobile payment app; and chief of staff Vasti Amaro, who has extensive experience in transit operations and started as a consultant last spring

In addition, longtime chief of operations Bill Miller retired this month and will be replaced in early 2019.

"Now, all the staff has someone they can look at and say, 'I can be like them,' " Ms. …

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