LA Now: OCTA’s Art Leahy to Be Next Metro CEO

3_3_09_leahy.jpgIn a sign that the death of the Bottleneck Blog has been prematurely announced, Steve Hymon breaks the news that the Metro Board is poised to select the Orange County Transportation Authority current CEO, Art T. Leahy as the successor to current Metro CEO Roger Snoble.  As you may remember, Snoble announced his retirement shortly after Measure R was passed by voters last fall.

Leahy appears to be a solid choice.  As CEO of a neighboring transit authority, he is already experienced in dealing with a state government that cuts transit funding before breakfast and knows how to steer a transit agency in an area dominated by a car culture.  Leahy also has a history with Metro, running bus bases during the 1984 Olympics and during the riots following the Rodney King verdict.

As CEO of OCTA, Leahy has some specific experience that will also doubtless be useful; overseeing the I-91 HOT Lanes and a budget that includes traditional transit projects as well as highway and other road projects.

It’s hard to judge Leahy based soley on ridership, as transit ridership grew so dramatically in the last year that nearly every agency saw new ridership highs.  Encouragingly, OCTA was not the exception to the rule

In researching this story, I found a great interview with Leahy from a July 2008 printing of Mass Transit Magazine.  In it, Leahy discusses a wide-range of topics including the effect that a fare hike had on ridership in 2008 which shows that hikes aren’t something he would shy away from if he and his staff felt it was needed.

“And so we wanted to see what would happen to ridership. It dipped a
bit. We exceeded our revenue projections, ridership dipped a bit the
first half of the calendar year. By the fourth quarter it had recovered
and began to exceed what it had the previous [year.]

“That’s another indication we are becoming a mature transit system — it’s not so much of a shock to the system.”

However, the interview also shows how Leahy cares about promoting late-night bus service, which is often first to the chopping block because it has low ridership compared to rush hour service and bicycles as part of a transportation network.

Admitedly, I haven’t spent a lot of time reviewing OCTA or its programs.  If anyone out there wants to chime in with their thoughts on Leahy or the OCTA, please feel free to fill-up the comments section.

  • This is a smart choice. Plus I have been sending Art the Transit Advocate newsletter the past few years, so he has the advantage via my column of news and analysis to have a good feel for the landscape of the agency he is taking over. He is also a nice guy–very affable.

  • This is a joke right? April Fools has come early this year, right?

    We’re about to embark on the most ambitious transit system expansion since the 1980s and handing our hand out to compete with major metro areas for scarce federal dollars, so we pick a guy out of Orange County to run the operation?

    No one at D.C., New York City, Chicago, Boston, let alone Denver or Seattle was available?

  • Stephen

    I grew up taking OCTA throughout my high school years (lived in Irvine area). But OCTA’s operations are peanuts compared with Metro.

    Here’s what I think about OCTA:
    – Buses were remarkably on time (partly I think b/c traffic is not as bad on OC local streets)
    – Always clean and graffiti free
    – Many low floor vehicles
    – Bus stop overhead lighting and visual alerts for the driver to see evening riders

    – No real limited/rapid routes, and I don’t think BRAVO will make any impact on ridership
    – Very limited weekend service (many routes run every 60-70 min)
    – No rail. We’ll see how Metrolink 30 min service works.
    – Virtually no TOD.
    – Don’t know why OCTA purchased a bunch of NABI LNGs several years ago, then now recently bought a bunch of New Flyer CNGs. Shouldn’t they have stuck with one alternative fuel?

  • Art Leahy definitely understands and has enthusiasm for light and heavy rail, from his past life at MTA (he was even a bus driver while in college), as head of the agency that built Minneapolis’ Hiawatha light rail line, and attempting to complete OCTA’s CenterLine light rail (which unfortuately was ahead of its time there).

    He was good at developing relationships with local elected officials in Orange County, which should serve him well dealing with the fragmented Metro board.

    And he encouraged productive input from transit advocates to OCTA. He should be a good choice for Metro.

  • Emma Schafer

    Excellent choice. Art knows the transit business inside and out….

  • This guy will be great … at continuing to spend 3/5 of our “transit” budget at the MTA on highway expansion, freeway car removal, and road widening. Oh we’ll get some trains, in 20 years so, “Yay for transit.”

    I look forward to NOT having the local returns guidelines modified to fit CA Streets and Highways Code Sec. 885.2 (wherein cycling is explicitly defined as an appropriate use of general transportation funds).

    I look forward to NOT having Transportion Demand Management money be shifted to improving sidewalks, pedestrian, cyclist, and bus access despite the clear wording in the Local Returns guidelines is as follows “The term TDM encompassess both the alternatives to driving alone and the techniques or supporting strategies that encourage the use [of other] modes.”

    Bravo, MTA. Maybe this guy knows how to unscrew the agency that is leasing its own property to itself to benefit AIG’s pissed off investors.

  • Despite naysayers like Damien Goodmon (who likely would have complained regardless of who was chosen), Leahy is an excellent choice.

    He understands bus operations, including what it’s like out on the streets (he started as a RTD driver in 1971 and worked his way up to Executive Officer for Operations by the time he left in 1996). He understands construction projects, having overseen Minneapolis’ light rail line project. He knows Metro, having been back in the region since 2001 and watching from across the Orange County line.

    This is as close to perfection as Metro is going to get as a successor to Roger Snoble.

  • Wad

    Damien G., we did well the last time we poached a chief from Orange County (by way of Santa Monica). John Catoe was in high demand when he was Metro’s No. 2, ultimately deciding to go back home to DC and run WMATA.

  • Spokker

    As CEO of the OCTA Leahy gave Orange County what they wanted, more roads, no rail and okay bus service.

    Why fault him for that? As CEO of Metro he better give Los Angeles County what they want AND voted for. More rail and better bus service.

  • Spokker

    You’ll recall that the OCTA tried to get Centerline built. It was an admirable effort but OC NIMBYs voted it down. Whatever.

    If you want to talk about rail, the OCTA has been very supportive of Metrolink and is planning 30-minute service between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel. It’s not the worst transportation agency in the world.

  • Alan K. Weeks

    I was very pleased to learn that Art would be returning to the MTA. He is the best person for the job. He knows transit from the ground up. He is a people person and is always willing to listen to those employes who are actually doing the work. Art was in charge of the Schedule Department before
    I retired from the RTD/MTA. I have seen his leadership first hand. The MTA will be in the best hands possible. I was concerned that the MTA Board would pick a Politically correct person without transit experience. Art knows the MTA inside and out from his years working there. He will hit the ground running and won’t need long to be on top of Transit in Los Angeles.

  • Marcotico

    Art Leahy has some strong plusses in his favor. He started as a bus driver and rose through the ranks of the operations side of the transit business (maintenance management). Having spoke to him twice, he seemed to favor getting more efficiency out of transit rather than coming up with a new capital investment solution for every problem. This is an area that Metro could use some guidance on (turnstiles anyone?). I’ve also spoken to OCTA employees, and Art Leahy makes a short appearance at almost every monthly new employee orientation, and makes sure that the admin staff and operators get at least this one opportunity to meet each other and see what the other side does.

  • Marcotico

    Expanding on my second point. The reason this is good, is that planners and managers tend to fall in love with pretty lines on maps, without a realization of what it takes to drive the buses, and maintain the stations. This is a trend that Browne Molyeux has done a pretty good job of identifying in her writing (tip o’ hat).

  • Brad

    Maybe this means we’ll finally get Google Transit for Los Angeles? :)

  • @Complainers: Give the guy a chance. I know nothing about Art Leahy, but the few people who have commented that they actually know him or the OCTA all say he knows what he’s doing.

    Damien G., Ubrayj, why would you assume that he doesn’t realize that L.A. is a different county than the OC? Yeesh.

    That is a very good point. . . OCTA does use google transit, doesn’t it? Getting MTA on google transit would help immensely, especially for visitors who don’t know our transit system or the MTA website, but do know how to use google for directions.

  • Spokker

    Some quotes from,0,7510085.story that I liked:

    “Leahy said that in his current job at OCTA he still likes to go for a drink after work at the Santa Ana train station and make sure the buses are arriving and departing on time. That’s a hobby that may serve him well in Los Angeles, where an MTA survey last year found its buses are tardy much more often than buses run by nine other major transit agencies.”

    “They also say that his bottom-up approach to learning transit will serve him well in a region where the vast majority of public officials never set foot on a bus or train unless it’s for a photo op.”

    “”Bus driving is a tough way to make a living,” Leahy said. “There’s the issue of managing heavy equipment in an uncontrolled environment while collecting fares and talking to customers. I became a much more determined student because of it and I realized I needed an education. Going through bus driver training was my equivalent of going to boot camp.””

    Time will tell whether he’s for real or not, but he’s saying all the right things so far.

  • Wad

    OCTA was one of the earliest adopters of Google Transit, and it got on thanks to the efforts of the scheduling department. The department head keeps his ear very close to riders and advocates.

  • mechazawa

    i am unfamiliar with this gentleman but as to what I have read about him. He is a heck of a step up. I really do hope he gets MTA in order,otherwise we will be sol …again. I want this man to work magic asap.

  • Spokker

    Regarding OC Weekly comments made in the past:

    “Since Leahy became CEO in January 2001, neither he nor his agency has done anything to solve the county’s traffic nightmare…”

    Raise your hand if you think anyone can solve automobile traffic without a change in behavior on the part of drivers. To be honest though, traffic in Orange County isn’t even as bad as traffic in LA County. I commuted for a period of time from Orange to Irvine. But then again, I CARPOOLED, something most OC residents aren’t willing to do. Love those carpool lane transitions.

    “install a meaningful mass transit system”

    Orange County didn’t want one.

    “improve the agency’s abysmal track record on bus service.”

    As a bus rider in Orange County I have no complaints in the sense that it’s a bus. What do you expect from it? It’s going to take an hour to go 8 miles no matter what.

    I’m disappointed with the delays in getting limited bus service started, but with the state transit cuts I’m not expecting any miracles to happen.

    “Originally conceived as an ambitious 87-mile answer to Orange County’s horrendous congestion question, the OCTA had already reduced the CenterLine to a 29-mile route by the time Leahy came aboard. Under Leahy, CenterLine has shrunk even more: if built, its planned 9.3-mile length would barely pass through Irvine and Costa Mesa before slicing through Santa Ana’s Bristol Street and Civic Center Plaza. And even this scenario isn’t certain.”

    …which is exactly what Orange County residents wanted. Art Leahy did a wonderful job serving OC interests. Drivers come first. Sorry that they wanted him to be a miracle worker and simply make traffic disappear with his mind.

  • Spokker

    Correction: I am disappointed with the delays in getting limited stop bus service started.

    Limited bus service is already on its way :(


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