Friday, March 5, 2010


Meet Metro's new chief: Service is the key
The Arizona Republic
Sean Holstege
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 11:33 AM

With a wave, a longtime Metro employee ushers me into the agency's inner sanctum and says "Meet the new boss."

Being a gentleman of a certain age, my mind jumps to a Who lyric, and I wonder, "Same as the old boss?"

Not quite. Metro CEO Steve Banta projects a much more hands-on image than the one struck by his predecessor Rick Simonetta. Simonetta was a planner by training and after a long and distinguished career came to Phoenix to build the starter line. His critics accused him of being aloof or overly willing to delegate at times.

Banta's quarter-century-long career started as a mechanic. He keeps in his office a picture of the San Diego trolley he first worked on in the mid-1980's. From there he moved around the country, working his way up as a mechanic supervisor, but always in the operations side of the transit business.

It comes across in his speech.

"I call it the view through the windshield. If we all understand what the operator sees and the mechanic sees every day, then our system will succeed," he says.

Banta understands that providing transit service is a contract with the public, riders and non-riding taxpayers alike. He came from managing operations in Portland, where the 72 percent of the customers could drive but choose not to. Here, about two-thirds of Metro's customers have a car.

"I ask (the) operators: 'Would you pay full fare to use our service?' If the answer is yes, great, keep doing what you're doing. If the answer is no, what can you do to get to yes?"

It's not an abstract question. Banta is leasing a home in Central Phoenix's Willo neighborhood and rides the train to work. He plans to meet with businesses along the track to see if Metro's promises came true. He says managing a transit system is all about the relationship with the community.

"Ultimately you are connecting people to life," Banta says.

He says there are four keys to Metro's success: keeping the system in good repair, providing a good work environment, getting community buy-in and providing top service.

"Now we have to embrace operations. If (someone feels he gets value for the transit ticket, the expansions will market themselves," he says, noting that he's talking with federal officials about downsizing expansions for the first time in his career.

Keeping faith with customers may be challenging in Metro's second year, as the agency and its member cities consider budget cuts and service reductions. Banta describes the scale of cuts this way: "They are unfortunate, not drastic. It's not draconian."

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