T president candidate for Pittsburgh job

Posted Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Fort Worth Transportation Authority President Dick Ruddell is a candidate for the job of chief executive officer at a transit agency in Pittsburgh.

Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Ruddell, who has led the T for a decade, confirmed that he had interviewed for the job at Port Authority of Alleghany County during a recent visit to Pittsburgh.

“I got a chance to go up there and meet the board and see a bit about the system, but wasn't made an offer or anything,” Ruddell said. “I'm honored to be considered, like anybody else would be.”

Ruddell is lauded for his organizational skills, but came under fire earlier this year for not moving quickly enough to build the proposed TEX Rail commuter line from Fort Worth to DFW Airport.

If hired for the Pennsylvania job, Ruddell would be taking the helm of an agency larger than the T. In Pittsburgh, the Port Authority of Alleghany County operates about 700 buses and 83 light-rail vehicles, according to its website. The agency also operates a century-old cable car known as the Duquesne Incline, which ferries passengers up a hill to a popular overlook.

Ruddell arrived at the T from Toledo, Ohio. He oversaw a massive reorganization of the T's administrative offices. Fort Worth, the largest member city of the T, wanted closer oversight of the agency, so the T board directed Ruddell to create an administrative staff from the ground up.

Agency reorganization

Until his arrival, virtually the T's entire workforce was employed by a private sector contractor, Fort Worth-based McDonald Transit Associates. McDonald still provides most of the rank-and-file workers, including bus drivers and mechanics.

The T also has made progress in making bus service more comfortable for its riders, including the installation of bus stop shelters with solar lighting and a new express bus service known as Spur operating on East Lancaster Avenue, the busiest transit corridor in the city. Spur buses are equipped with signal-changing technology, so the vehicles don’t have to wait long at traffic lights.

Ruddell also oversaw the creation of Molly the Trolley, a rubber-tire streetcar service downtown that many T supporters would like to see expanded to other areas of the city.

But Ruddell came under fire earlier this year from powerful critics who said the T under his leadership wasn't moving quickly enough to build TEX Rail, a proposed 40-mile commuter rail line that is now tentatively scheduled to connect southwest Fort Worth and downtown to Grapevine and DFW Airport by 2016.

Earlier this year, members of the Fort Worth City Council removed eight of the T's nine board members - and Tarrant County commissioners removed the ninth member - in an effort to install new leadership at the T that would get TEX Rail back on track.

Fort Worth officials at that time also stressed the importance of bringing in someone with rail experience to lead the T, although they added that they didn't necessarily want to see Ruddell go.

Ruddell's contract with the T runs through the end of 2014.

TEX Rail moving forward

T board chairman Scott Mahaffey said he was aware of the Pittsburgh agency’s interest in Ruddell, and offered to give Ruddell a “great recommendation” if necessary during the interview process.

Mahaffey said the T board was close to beginning its search for an executive with rail experience to lead the TEX Rail project, which currently is being managed by Rob Harmon, who also is the T’s chief financial officer.

“We think the TEX Rail project is so important and has so many moving pieces, we just can’t keep doing it the way we’ve been doing it,” Mahaffey said. “We think we’re going to need someone who can do nothing but focus all his time on the project.”

In Pennsylvania, port authority board member Constance Parker identified three candidates for that agency’s top job, according to a report Thursday on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s website - triblive.com.

But Parker said those three candidates weren’t necessarily finalists, and that others could be interviewed.

In Pittsburgh, former chief executive Steve Bland was fired in March after months of friction with a county official, according to the newspaper.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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