Getting to know the Next Director of JTA

With three finalist in position to replace Michael Blaylock as the executive director of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Metro Jacksonville looks into the transportation background of Steve Bland, Nathaniel P. Ford, and Frank T. Martin.

Published October 9, 2012 in Transportation -

Steve Bland

Steve Bland is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Pittsburgh's Port Authority of Allegheny County. From 1985 to 1986, Bland was employed by the Dallas Transit System as a Vehicle Maintenance Systems Coordinator.  Between 1986 and 1987, he was the General Manager of the Cape Ann Transportation Authority in Gloucester, MA. In 1987, he left Gloucester to become the manager of Program Development and Operations Planning for Syracuse, NY's Central New York RTA. After four years in Syracuse, Bland accepted a General Manager position at rabbittransit in York, PA in 1991.  In 1994, Bland became the Executive Director of rabbittransit. There, he oversaw a 67 vehicle transit system with an annual budget of $8 million and 150 employees.

In 2002, Bland departed rabbittransit to become the Executive Director of Albany, NY's Capital District Transportation Authority, where he remained for four years.  There, he led a 290 vehicle transit system with an annual operating budget of $60 million with 675 employees. While in Albany, Bland oversaw the development plan of a bus rapid transit project on a corridor connecting downtown Albany and downtown Schenectady that handled 20% of CDTA's ridership.  Promoted as an alternative to light rail, the BRT project mixed branded buses with existing traffic and included queue jumps and signal priority for buses at major intersections.  During his time in Albany, a $7 million intermodal terminal was also completed. The project, now known as BusPlus, become operational in 2011, five years after the departure of Bland.

In 2006, he accepted his current position as the Chief Executive Officer of the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, PA. Also known as the Port Authority or PAT, it is the second-largest public transit agency in Pennsylvania and the 11th largest in the country.  Although the Port Authority operates a 26-mile light rail called "The T", the authority is well known for its dedicated busway lines.  The most recent BRT project was completed three years before Bland's arrival.

The same year Bland arrived in town, the Port Authority broke ground on one of the nation's most controversial transit projects, the North Shore Connector.  Less than two miles in length, originally budgeted at $435 million and approved in 2004, the underground light rail line was completed in March 2012 at the cost of $523.4 million.  Despite the new light rail line now dealing with congestion and overcrowding from increased ridership, the Port Authority's next project involves more bus rapid transit. According to a recent Pittsburgh interview, Bland views BRT as “trying to make bus technology look, feel and work as much like light rail as you possibly can. It’s simplifying the route structure so that if you look at that system, it really looks like a rail line. It’s just the vehicle that’s not the same.”

Steve Bland was also a finalist for the new CEO opening with Atlanta's MARTA, along with Keith Parker, the chief of San Antonio's transit system.  However, last week, Parker was unanimously selected over Bland for the Atlanta job.  Before San Antonio, Parker had also served as CEO of the Charlotte Area Transit System from 2004 to 2007.

Bland is currently the CEO of Pittsburgh's Port Authority of Allegheny County.

Sources: Stephen report.pdf

Nathaniel P. Ford

Nathaniel P. Ford is currently the president of the Ford Transportation Group, LLC. which specializes in providing transportation planning and traffic engineering services to the public and private sector.  Ford Transportation Group was established in July 2011 and based in Atlanta, GA.

Prior to 1992, Ford was employed as a train conductor before joining the San Franscisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) as an Assistant Chief Transportation Officer.  After eight years with BART, he became the Chief Executive Officer of Metropolitan Atlanta Transportation Authority (MARTA) in Atlanta, GA.  There, he was responsible for 4,200 employees, an operating and capital budget totaling $792.9 million, as well as the Authority's multi-modal operations that included more than 680 buses, 120 bus routes covering 25 million miles, and a rail system of 338 rail cars with 38 stations covering 48 miles of track and 23 million miles of rail service annually.

During his time in Atlanta, there were no active railway expansion projects in the MARTA system due to lack of additional sales-tax funding, the need to spend its limited capital budget on refurbishing its older rolling stock, replacing the fare-collection system, repairing the tracks and their electrical systems, and other long-term maintenance, repair, and operations requirements.  In Fiscal Year 2005, Ford helped save MARTA $16.1 millions in reserve funds that were previously approved by MARTA's Board to cover operating deficits, through creative revenue generating strategies and implementing critical cost cutting initiative. He was also beneficial in reducing costs totaling $36 millions over a three year period and ended FY 2004 under budget by $11.5 million by improving efficiency in operations, restructuring the work force and building consensus among employees to gain voluntary wage concessions.

After six years, he left Atlanta in January 2006, moving back to San Francisco region to become the Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni). Later in 2006, Ford found himself in controversy as internal and external audits of MARTA corporate spending revealed personal charges on a pair of MARTA credit cards used by him and two secretaries. Ford's charges included $454 at a golf pro shop, $335 in clothing from Men's Wearhouse and a $58 visit to the dentist. In response to the 2006 audit, Ford sent MARTA a check for $1,000 as reimbursement for the charges.

As the head of Muni, Ford was responsible for a transit network consisting of 54 bus lines, 17 trolley bus lines, 7 light rail lines that operate above ground and in the City's lone subway tube (called Muni Metro), 3 cable car lines, and a heritage streetcar line known as the F Market & Wharves. During his time with Muni, he successfully integrated the integrated the Municipal Railway and Department of Parking and Traffic into a cohesive organization and restructured the SFMTA's leadership team to create a culture of customer focus, safety, financial and operational accountability.

In mid-April 2007, the San Francisco auditor's office reported that the city was not receiving the expected revenue from cable cars, with an estimated 40% of cable car riders riding for free. Ford disputed this figure while pointing out that safe operation, rather than revenue collection, is the primary duty of conductors.

On October 8, 2007, SFMTA's cable car signs were awarded the AdWheel Award as the best in print promotion by the American Public Transportation Association. At the time Ford stated that the "marketing group had done an outstanding job making the key boarding areas more attractive and inviting for residents and our guests."

Later that year, it was announced that the entire city fleet, including all of Muni buses, would be powered with biodiesel, a combination of 80% petroleum diesel fuel and 20% biofuel, to reduce carbon emissions. Today, Muni's hybrid bus fleet currently runs on biodiesel.

On December 5, 2009, the Muni system underwent its most extensive changes in over 30 years, in an attempt by the SFMTA to reduce its budget shortfall. This involved changes to over 60 percent of its bus and light rail routes, including the elimination of six bus routes. Changes included reduced frequency of service, shortened or altered routes, and earlier termination of service, although a few of the busiest lines, such as the 38 Geary, saw service increases.

After resigning from Muni in July 2011, Ford relocated to Atlanta, GA, establishing his current consulting firm, the Ford Transportation Group, LLC.  In addition, for the last twelve years, Ford has also served as the secretary/treasurer for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

Ford was over San Francisco's Muni from 2006 to 2011.


Frank T. Martin

Frank T. Martin is currently employed as the Senior Vice President, Transportation, Sales and Strategy for Atkins North America in Orlando, FL.  Martin has been with Atkins since 2004.

From 1987 to 1999, Martin served as the Assistant Director of Rail Services for Miami Dade Transit. The Miami Metromover opened a year prior to Martin taking the rail services position with Miami-Dade Transit.  However, in 1994, two Metromover extensions were completed, completing the 4.4 mile downtown system.  Since then, the system has become a catalyst for downtown development in Miami.  The 1990s, would also see preliminary engineering for Metrorail's extension to the Palmetto Expressway begin, culminating with the opening of Palmetto Station in May 2003. In 1997, the original 6.5 mile segment of the South Miami-Dade Busway opened.  

In 1999, Martin left Miami-Dade to become the Chief Operating Officer for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in San Jose, CA. The VTA is a special-purpose district responsible for public transit services, congestion management, specific highway improvement projects, and countywide transportation planning for Santa Clara County, California. It is one of the governing parties for the Caltrain commuter rail line that serves the county. In this capacity he was responsible for more than 2,400 employees for this multi-modal planning and transportation agency.

A year after Martin joined VTA, voters approved a 30 year extension of the 1996 sales tax to fund an extension of Bay Area Rapid Transit to Santa Clara, which was fiercly advocated by San Jose mayor Ron Gonzales. 2000 Measure A also included funding for light rail extensions, bus expansion, and expansion and electrification of Caltrain service to San Jose International Airport.  However, concerned with VTA's ability to operate BART, the Federal Transit Administration issued a "Not Recommended" rating to VTA's expansion plans in January 2004.

In addition, after the dot-com bust in 2000, VTA's revenue sources declined, resulting in cuts to service and increased fares.  Between 1998 and 2005, base fares have increased 59%, monthly passes by 86%, and day passes by 139%.  In addition, VTA's farebox recovery is approximately 12%, which is far below the national average.  

However, during this time period VTA successfully expanded their light rail system to I-880/Milpitas in 2001 and to Hostetter station in 2004 as part of the Tasman East extension. In the same year, the Capitol extension to Alum Rock station was also finished. The latest section, the Vasona extension, was completed in 2005, connecting Campbell to Downtown San Jose.

In 2004, after five years in San Jose, Martin left California to head back to Florida to accept a position with transportation consulting firm, PBS&J as the firm's Director of National Transit. Since then, PBS&J has become Atkins North America.

With Atkins, Martin was originally responsible for developing the strategic vision and managing the corporation’s transit and rail business sector in North America. Today, that position is held by Jon McDonald while Martin is now over sales and strategy. In addition, he currently serves on several national transportation boards including the American Public Transportation Association's Business Members Board of Governors (BMBG).

Martin spent 12 years as the Assistant Director of Rail Services for Miami-Dade Transit.


Who do you think is ready to take on JTA and Jacksonville?

Article by Ennis Davis

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