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Meet our episode 31 guest Randy Clarke

Clear goals, a core value simple enough for everyone in the organization to understand, and a mindful investment in community engagement are what CEO Randy Clarke believes are the necessary elements for Austin-based CapMetro to build towards the future.

To learn more about how officials in Vancouver transformed transit in the city, check out this blog post

Episode Transcript

Cohen: Josh Cohen
Clarke: Randy Clarke

Cohen: Randy Clarke knows Austin can’t just keep doing the same old thing over again if it wants to achieve ambitious community goals around transportation. Randy has gathered the best lessons from other communities who have similar ambitions but also challenged his team at CapMetro to look at the work they’re doing differently through the eyes of their grandmothers. Let’s go.

F: Mobility is an essential component to the cities of our future. To build this future, we need to do more than invest in technology; we need to invest in the people who will make the hard decisions necessary to create vibrant, equitable, and sustainable cities. Welcome to The Movement where we talk to the brave leaders who are effecting change in an effort to build a coalition of leaders who will make tomorrow real. Here is your host, TransLoc’s National Director of Policy, Josh Cohen.

Cohen: My guest today is Randy Clarke, the president and CEO of Capital Metro, the public transit agency serving Austin, Texas. And Randy first came to my attention after a conversation I had with David Stackrow who is the chair of the American Public Transportation Association. And I was asking David who were some of the folks in the industry that he thought were doing some really great work and needed to have their story shared a little bit more broadly, and he mentioned Randy. And then I met Randy subsequently at the Shared-Use Mobility Summit in Chicago, and now here we are a few months later. So welcome to The Movement, Randy.

Clarke: Hey. Thanks for having me, Josh. And I appreciate the kind words from Dave Stackrow suggesting we talk together. He’s a great guy and doing great stuff for the industry.

Cohen: That’s right. You just joined CapMetro about a year and a half ago. And Austin, Texas—I mean, golly—it’s just growing so, so much. And I know even in the year and a half you’ve been there it’s been growing a lot. Tell me a little bit about where you see CapMetro fitting in this astounding growth that the Austin area is experiencing.

Clarke: I’d been to Austin a couple of times before I got this opportunity, and it’s a really dynamic kind of fun place, but I had no idea it was the rocket ship that it really is.

Cohen: Yeah.

Clarke: There’s lots of parts of America that are growing right now, but Austin is certainly in one of the top levels, for sure. And, you know, a building next to mine is a 58-story residential that just opened. They’re breaking ground next week on a 60-plus-story building. If you were in downtown three years ago, it looked almost pretty different. If you were here 10 years ago, it’s a totally different city. I think we have a little over a 130 people a day move to Austin.

Cohen: Wow.

Clarke: And it’s just such a really fun, great community. It’s got this laidback kind of—I kind of joked at the Shared-Use Mobility Conference of like this old hippy vibe with tech and music, and it’s just is really is the nicest people live here, super into wellness and outside recreation, great food scene, music scene. So it’s really attracting a lot of people and a lot in the tech industry. Some people call it Silicon Hills because of the hill country around Austin. It’s really growing rapidly, and with growth there’s amazing opportunities but incredible challenges, and clearly congestion, traffic, and just overall mobility is top of list for that.

Cohen: So from your standpoint looking at CapMetro and kind of what you can do to address that—and, you know, maybe this might be a good segue into Project Connect. I know that Project Connect has a big vision there. So maybe share a little bit more about what that vision looks like.

Clarke: Sure. And maybe it’s good to even talk a little bit about what we’re doing now before the whole vision, you know, to the root of your question.

Cohen: Sure.

Clarke: In a lot of ways we run a good system, but we did what we call a Cap Remap, so a system analysis and redid our bus system last June. And it needed to be done pretty significantly like most places around the country. So ridership has actually been up 12 of the last 13 months.

Cohen: Wow.

Clarke: We had one month that it rained here pretty heavily, and that impacted our piece. So for the fiscal year we’re up about four percent; last month we were up another nine percent. Most of our key routes are actually—some of my bigger criticisms we get online now is overcrowding and what are we going to do, and we are pretty much maxed out on resources. So we’re working really hard.

There’s more people using the service, doing a lot better of our innovation. Things like our apps are working a lot better. Our real-time countdown information is a lot tighter. We built a new operations control center, and we just awarded a new bus operations contract to MV Transit, and it’s a 10-year contract. It’s actually over a billion-dollar contract to consolidate all of our bus services, which we think will bring even higher level of quality to our customers. So we’re doing a lot of things like that. Working with the city, we just implemented a new contraflow lane for dedicated bus lane in our tightest section, have new electric buses showing up starting in December.

And did another trans program with the city at another piece, and we run a lot of express buses down a dedicated toll lane with another partner, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which is the toll operator in the area. So kind of, to me, it’s we’re chewing gum and walking at the same time. We have to do better every day today. The demands are getting higher, and people need to get around. And then secondarily we’ve got to plan for the future, and the future is labeled as Project Connect. So it’s a big system kind of expansion plan, and I guess the best way I would describe it, it’s a regional vision of how public transportation should fit into this quickly developing area.

Because not only is Austin growing; the whole Central Texas region is basically the fastest growing part of the country. And, you know, we are in Texas, and there’s a lot of car-loving aspects about that, but overwhelmingly people know that transit has to play a much bigger role. And so this kind of takes in the surrounding aspects of greater Austin, and then as you drill down into Austin itself the investments are larger because they’re designed to move more people. So, you know, more park-and-ride, express buses in the more suburban areas, potentially one more commuter rail line to our east, an area that we already own the right-of-way and track.

And in the downtown we’re looking at what we call MetroRapid, so maybe the best thing, like a BRT light, so not fully dedicated right-of-way, probably six more of those, and then two lines that we have not determined if it’s LRT or the highest level of BRT, but either way they would be 100% dedicated right-of-way, full station boarding, center running transit, off-board payment. You know, so if it’s BRT it’ll look and feel exactly like light rail, so that high in quality or if it’s LRT. And those are two lines. One is north-south that really connects—you know, UT is a big deal here, obviously.

Cohen: Of course, yeah.

Clarke: —football game tomorrow against LSU; there’ll be over 100,000 people there, so it’s a big part of our community. And then the Blue Line from the airport, which is just east of downtown, and that’s the fastest growing airport, I think, last year and one of the fastest developing corridors in the whole country.

Cohen: It’s a great airport.

Clarke: So that whole—yeah, it really is great, and it’s growing quickly. They’re into a process now to do a big design on a large expansion, and it fits perfectly with our plan because we want to integrate the transit directly into the new terminal. And so we’ve already had a lot of design conversations with that. So the short of it is a big vision for the region of how to move us forward with a big investment in transit.

And I’m staff, so I won’t make the political call of a 2020 referendum, but it’s been pretty much talked about by everyone that something will move forward next November once and for all. Austin has fought back and forth on this thing for 20 years, and I’m very confident that the community has—we reached a tipping point, and everyone knows we have to do something significant to move forward.

Cohen: Yeah, so that’s maybe a good jumping off point. I know in 2014—and there was Proposition 1, which voters rejected at that time, and I know that was before your time. And, in fact, one of my previous guests on this episode, Robin Rather, who’s an Austin resident kind of mentioned that actually in her episode. I think it was Episode 006 of The Movement podcast. So I guess maybe my question for you is what are you and/or the community doing differently this time versus 2014 with Proposition 1?

Clarke: I look at generally in life, you know, if you weren’t involved with something don’t talk too much about it. Because at the end of the day I can’t judge whether the people that did that 2014 were right or wrong and whether was it wrong technically, was it wrong politically, was it wrong sales-wise; I don’t know. I’ll tell you from my perspective, what we’ve committed to is make this the best public engagement process this community has ever seen. We’ve done more public meetings than any effort ever, not just transit, on any item. And we have rounds and rounds more of doing that.

I think that’s the ultimate key, is getting more people in the community engaged and engaged at different levels. A, fundamentally just educate on the value of public transit and why we need it; and then, B, to the higher level of the tradeoffs of if you do X you can’t have Y. And we’re really focused on that. We also are doing a lot more engineering and cost detailing than was done previously. So there was some good estimates done before, but we’ve already started the full NEPA process. We’re about eight, nine months into NIPA process already, and through that a lot more serious discussion from an engineering point of tradeoffs and where floodplain exists and what we’re going to have to do from structural aspects.

We’re looking at grade separation, potentially tunneling downtown and different ridership modeling and different scenarios. So I think we’re probably taking it to a higher technical level than was done before. And that’s not criticism of before; it’s just what we’re committed to do. And the other thing that I look at is that’ll be six years and six years in a community that’s growing by 30,000 people a year. I heard the other day someone told me that the electorate has changed, over 60% change in November ’18 versus November of 2014. So, to me, ’14 is important just like the 2000 referendum here that lost by, I think, 1,800 votes was important. And all those should be learned from and, “Why?”

And if it’s technical and community driven, then that’s what I’m focused on, but at the end of the day there’s tons of new people here. The dynamics have changed a lot. Traffic is an overwhelming concern for almost everyone. Business leaders know they can’t get people to come and recruit if they don’t have better access to mobility. And environmentally I think the world has changed a lot with the focus on climate change, we’ve committed to an all-electric system and really starting to move our greenhouse gas emissions to a lower level. So I think all those factors add into a community that’s probably at a different place than ’14, so learning from ’14 but not being kind of encumbered by it.

And that’s why also it’s important that we learn from things like, you know, Phil and everyone and Measure M and what they did great or up in Seattle with ST3 and all those. You know, it’s a good learning in what our industry is good at sharing, but at the same time we have our own unique community, and how we have to build a system that meets the community’s goals.

Cohen: Well, I love that you started with the engagement process, that that was kind of the first piece that kind of jumped out to you, because I do think that’s a theme that I’m starting to see emerge. In the conversation I had in Episode 026 with Heather Worthington, the Director of Planning for the City of Minneapolis, that was a real key to the work they did for their Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan, was really focus on the public engagement and really making sure that they did that mindfully.

They kind of addressed some of their blind spots and really went out there and made it happen. And so much so that as they’re kind of wrapping up their process they said, “How can we keep doing this even though we’re not in this process of where we’re trying to build this plan, but how do we keep this process going?” So I want to dig a little bit deeper into that public engagement. And maybe if you can share if there’s been any particular elements of that that really jumped out to you, like why you really chose to invest in that. I mean, there’s a million different ways to tackle a project like this. This is clearly important for you and your team. Kind of help me understand what led to you making that call to say, “We need to invest more heavily here” with the public engagement.

Clarke: Yeah, so a couple things on that. One, at the end of the day, you know, we’re funded by the community, and it’s a community’s system, and people like me just have the privilege at this period of time to be in positions to manage the system. It’s not my system; it’s the community’s system, so I think it’s important we always all remember that, all of us as public servants. I kind of called it the H-E-B test. And H-E-B is a big grocery chain in Texas.

And I kind of said to people when I got here—a few people said, “Oh, great. We’ve done all this community engagement,” and I said, “You know, if I go to a H-E-B right now and I ask 10 people if they know anything about Project Connect, and one person says yes, it hasn’t passed the H-E-B test. And we haven’t penetrated enough into the community where enough people really understand what we’re trying to accomplish and how it’s going to benefit their lives.” So we’re never going to get everyone. The world now is beyond dominated by tweets and everything else. It’s lots of negative aspects to that. And it’s really hard to actually penetrate into people’s lives, but we had to do a lot deeper effort.

So one of the things we focused on—we leased a spot on Congress Street, which is the main street downtown, retail office space where anyone can walk in all day long. We have a team in there, Project Connect office, and it’s really based like a retail environment where you come in. There’s maps on the wall, handouts; we do taco breakfast mornings—tacos are a big thing, obviously, in Austin—coffee in the afternoon, community town halls. Really the idea of it’s an open door to come in. Everything is transparent. If you want any data, you can go play around with data all weekend on your own, if you want. So we really focused on that.

I think the building blocks were we did Cap Remap last year, which rebuilt our entire bus service, and the engagement the team did on that over the year and half before that was really extensive. So it naturally kept that momentum going, and people had a better trust of Cap Metro. And then on a city side for the first time in like 20 years they updated their long-range strategic plan called the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan. And in that we were involved with that really tightly with the city staff. And across the whole community they felt really comfortable because of the credibility and respectfulness that that process took.

And in that when the city council approved it they set a very ambitious mode-share goal for 50/50, 50% single occupancy vehicle and 50% other. And the only way to obviously make that happen is investments. And they took the Project Connect vision map that our board approved and embedded it in the city’s policy, so the council voted to say Cap Metro’s approval piece now is part of our actual city policy piece as well. And that includes dedicated right-of-way on our two most important corridors.

So I think doing all those in a very deliberate process instead of just running right to the technical and giving people information to go run a campaign, it was much more important that we build the credibility, so working every day to make Capitol Metro work better, increasing ridership, making the buses on time, etcetera, etcetera, and then working policy-wise across the community. I think we’re at a much better foundational level to move into the 2020 conversation than just talking about, “Hey, give us money. Trust us. We’ll be able to build something better.”

Cohen: Yeah. And I think that alignment that you talked about with the city, I think, is so critical too. Too often, I think, it’s easy for different authorities or associations to kind of do their work but do it in a silo. So having that alignment directly with the city is so important.

Clarke: Yeah. Hey, Josh, it’s their right-of-way.

Cohen: Yeah. Totally.

Clarke: So, you know, my team can plan all they want, but it’s someone else’s road that we’ve got to go rip up and either put a tunnel in or take a couple lanes. So I will say the city staff has been fantastic. Lots of new city staff leadership here in Austin, all came in around the same time, some people from some bigger cities. And one thing I’ve noticed, Austin has incredibly smart people, incredibly smart town. If there is a deficit it’s experiential, and what I mean by that is we don’t have a lot of big transit infrastructure.

And when you don’t have that it’s, I think, a little harder for people to see what you’re talking about. And so there’s a little bit of—the onus is on us to use case studies and peer examples to really show a vision of where we could get to versus just like a one-dimensional, “Well, here’s why we need to do it.” And when you do that this community is really engaged and really smart and quickly picks up what the possibilities are, and I think the excitement is building on the future of Austin.

Cohen: Yeah, definitely. Well, I think that may be a good transition point to your prior roles. You spent some time at the American Public Transit Association and then prior to that at the MBTA in Boston. I’m curious what lessons that you’ve pulled from those experiences that you brought with you to Austin.

Clarke: Yeah, I mean, incredible experience. I’m so lucky. I had some great mentors, and just timing in life happens where you get some great opportunities, so wouldn’t change either at any step for my career. I’ve been very lucky. The T in Boston is, you know, to me you’re playing—I like baseball, so you’re playing for the Red Socks kind of deal. Right? In the transit world, you’re in the bigs.

Cohen: Yeah.

Clarke: And you either sink or swim quickly there. The sense of urgency at the T is very, very stressful for most people, high intensity, because what you’re doing is so important. You’re moving 1.2 million people a day, and just it’s on all the time. What I learned the most about the T is, A, you’ve got to have—you know, the old [INDISCERNIBLE]. There are some people there that are the salt of the earth, as the saying goes. They work 24/7. They’ve committed their entire life to running that service. And you just can’t imagine the commitment at an aged system like that, how it works. So you need—to me, I learned a lot about the passion and sense of urgency.

Cohen: Sure.

Clarke: And the biggest lesson though out of the T is state of good repair.

Cohen: Yeah.

Clarke: And the T, you know, it’s kind of fighting its way back. It’s clawing its way back right now. I think the team up there has been doing a great job. I think when I was there we were really trying to focus on building it, digging our way out, and the team there now is fantastic in doing that. And whether it’s the board that’s really good, the governor showing good leadership, and the staff itself is fantastic. But the real lesson there is how bad the state of good repair deficit was. And right, wrong, or indifferent, I wasn’t there for politics in the years before; but clearly the investments were not made, and things got to a point where everything almost fell apart.

Cohen: Sure.

Clarke: And I think it’s the ultimate lesson for all of us, is you can’t have critical infrastructure where—no sense building something if you’re not going to maintain it. And you’ve got to make the hard choices sometimes of doing shutdowns to do your maintenance work, or you’ve got to build resiliency into your system. And you’ve got to fund stuff, and funding stuff is not as sexy to the public and to elected officials, but it’s beyond critical.

And I think what’s happened in Boston, what’s currently happened in New York, and what’s happened in D.C.—and now Paul has done a great job with others building WMATA out of the hole—really emphasizes if you don’t have dedicated funding and a dedicated maintenance program for a big capital renewal stuff, bad things will eventually happen. So it should be eye-opening for everyone no matter what size a system. You don’t need tunnels and heavy rail to understand that. Your bus system is just as critical. You can’t have 20-year-old buses running around either, so.

Cohen: Yeah, you’re right. That is this kind of unsexy money to spend, but it’s critical. Do you think that at a macro level people are starting to get their head around the importance of that type of investment, or do you still think we have a ways to go on that?

Clarke: Well, not to be—I want to be an optimist. I generally live my life being pretty optimistic. So, A, I think on the profession level, yes. I think the acute awareness of state of good repair has probably been higher than it’s ever been. I think over all in the public it’s higher awareness. Whether it’s really where we need to get, I’m not sure, but it’s definitely more acute because of these problems. And whether it’s a bridge failure in Minneapolis or what happened in WMATA, etcetera, I think that draws that attention rightly to a problem. But if that was the case, you know, to me, my cynical side, if we made the right level of attention to that I don’t think we’d have a Highway Trust Fund that is completely unfunded and we have no solution in the mirror that’s ready to happen.

Cohen: Right.

Clarke: So, I think, to me that’s when the sign happens, when D.C. gets this organized where we have sustainable funding to run a national infrastructure system. And so I’m hopeful that that will happen, but—[LAUGHS]—your guess is as good as mine of when and if that happens. But, I mean, it has to happen. Our whole economy and way of life in the country depends on it, and right now it’s—and no matter what agency you’re at, what mode you’re at, what city or state or jurisdictional level you’re at, everyone knows the truth that we need to figure out our long-term funding stream.

Cohen: Yeah. I mean, I’ve got several children, and I remember when my kids were young and we were dealing with the sleep training to kind of get them able to sleep through the night and that kind of thing as they’re—I don’t know—one or so. I remember that I had that conversation with my wife, which is that we just have to let them scream. It’s going to be painful; they’ll fall asleep; they’ll learn; they’ll get better, but these next couple hours, next couple of days, so forth, they are going to be painful. But it’s what we need to do for the long term. It’s a similar situation as it relates to investing in these long-term aspects like infrastructure and maintenance and so forth. If we don’t do it, it’s just going to get worse, and we’re going to have a six year old who can’t fall asleep by themselves. You know, and that’s not what we need.

Clarke: Yeah. Well, listen; the whole thing is kind of like—you know, I give the analogy of people go to the doctor, and the doctor is like, “Hey, you should probably do a little more exercise. You should do this; you should do that.” And someone goes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then they wake up with a tube in their nose, and they go, “Yeah, you just had a double bypass,” and the guy is like, “Oh, good. I’ve got to stop eating steak and cheese, and I’ve got to run everyday.”

Well, you know, sooner or later we’ve got—and unfortunately our society has turned into where the disaster is the triggering point to get us to move the needle. And I wish we weren’t that way, but something is going to have to give here sooner or later on a funding mechanism nationally. And I don’t know what that is, and I’m certainly not at the pay grade to figure that solution out.


Cohen: You know, obviously wherever there’s these challenges that we have in the industry right now with land use or funding or parking, curb management and so forth, there’s also opportunities. And so I’d love to get your perspective on who you think is doing a really great job in the industry of moving us forward with that kind of deliberative and thoughtful way.

Clarke: Well, that’s a great question. And I think there’s a lot of people out there that are working really hard. I’m lucky to be with on occasion so many great CEOs and management teams and board people that really care and are moving. And what I think is great about our industry, it’s great to steal from each other liberally. And we want to help each other out, and there’s no—you know, it’s not a private, profit driven; it’s best practice driven, so it’s great.

I would say—you know, in my opinion, first of all, I think a couple of Canadian systems are really doing the right thing. And part of that’s the federal government is stepping up there finally. They haven’t in a long time, but they are. Toronto has some really great leadership. They’ve got some different things going around about jurisdictional responsibility, but they’re putting big money into their systems. And it’s across a variety of modes, and they’re willing to do some lane modifications and other things to really make the mobility work better. Vancouver is just—Kevin and his crew are just doing a great job out there. And a lot of that is fueled by a group of people in the region that want a sustainability theme. That probably falls into Seattle as well.

And one thing that Peter and the leadership there, I think, have done a great job at is the 2016 referendum not only allowed money for capital; it actually created the sustainability for long-term state of good repair. And that’s how these things have to get done. It’s not just flashy, “Here’s some money; go build something.” They’re actually set up for true success where whatever they build they’re going to have the proper funding mechanisms to make state of good repair and keep these investments going for generations. And so Seattle is doing great at that. Seattle is also really doing great and Vancouver at land use and how land use ties into transportation.

I think Denver is doing a fair amount of that stuff. Dave and his team are really doing a good job trying to advance a lot of innovative practices. You know, and very similar to us, you’ve got a pretty more typical suburban aspects and then with a deep core. But they’re doing a lot of TOD and driving that type of thing. You know, Boston is finally, I would argue, getting its stuff together from a political funding point of view, which I think is really good. You know, the T and the state trying to put in more investment there; I think that’s really coming together.

Vegas, Tina Quigley and her crew are just relentless in innovation. Right? There is no bigger disrupter in the industry than Tina. And I think it’s either disrupt or die in our world today, especially if you’re not one of the big, old, legacy cities. And I think she’s doing an amazing job that way. You know, I can name more and more, but I think there’s a lot of examples out there of people that are trying to push the limits right now. And I find one of the challenges of this job—it’s not like probably the job used to be 15, 20 years ago where you were kind of just a transit person.

And I think one of the bigger challenges of this job now is being a public—not so much just a public figure but a culture change agent and a dreamer and trying to facilitate change and a mode sift and some consumer behavior, if you will. And that involves trying to help move policymakers, the community at large, staff, all within an FTA or a regulatory process. So I give a lot of kudos to a lot of my peers out there that I think are doing a really good job. And as one of the younger CEOs I just try to pay attention and steal every idea I can get.

Cohen: Well, I’m glad you brought that up about kind of the changes to the role, because in some ways I kind of think you’re right there. And I’ve covered this with other guests, but, you know, you kind of don’t know unit you find the edge of that cliff until you get there. Right? And I’m sure you’ve probably had some challenges, you know, and you probably didn’t know they were going to be challenges until you actually kind of kept stepping and kept stepping to the edge of that cliff and then found, “Oh, wow. I went a step too far.” And so I guess maybe any advice or lessons you could share from one of those times where you were kind of trying to push the envelope there, and it’s like, “Whoa, I think I might have just pushed that a little bit too far”?

Clarke: Yeah. You know, I’m a relatively—people that know me in the industry know I’m a pretty—you know, some people have labeled me before “the tornado.” I’m a pretty go-go-go kind of guy. And so sometimes that could happen. So what I’ve said with my staff—and I really believe this—is I would always rather have someone that I’ve got to pull the reins back a bit than constantly be kicking from behind telling them to move forward. And so that’s kind of the way I look at life now.

Our world is so fast compared to the way it used to be. Even from my age, you know, 10 years ago the world moved so much slower than it does today. And it’s only going to keep accelerating, and we don’t have a choice. We either get faster in our processes and ability to be more nimble or we’re going to have major problems. So as much as I can I’m trying to build more of a culture that we are a little bit more like a tech company, but instead of trying to get to profitability our profit is the community benefit.

Cohen: Mm-hmm.

Clarke: And so I kind of set two goals for our agency and one underlying value. And the two goals are we will develop a community plan that the community ultimately approves, and then we’ll know that we really moved the needle forward in this expansion. So not just about Project Connect but the community has approved that. And so that’s next November. If we’ve done our job correctly with community engagement and technically and credibility, then the community will support us moving forward on this big expansion.

And the other goal, I said, “We need to be recognized as APTA agency of the year.” And I set that goal pretty boldly, and I said, “All of our other KPI metrics and operational elements and workforce retention and communication, all that rolls up to us being the best agency we can possibly be.” And hopefully we get recognized nationally for that, and if we don’t we still met and pushed the goal of all of our metrics higher to roll up to that. And then I created one value to everyone. I said, “Everything you do, have the idea that it’s your grandmother waiting at the bus.”

Cohen: Hmm.

Clarke: And if you do that you’re going to personalize what we do. Then it’s not just a job; it’s a community mission. And so if grandmother is waiting at the bus and it’s 105, she probably wants shade. She also probably wants the bus to show up on time. She wants the bus to be clean. She wants the bus to get kneeled down for her. She wants the bus operator to be friendly, the bus operator’s uniform okay, and no security issues on board that bus, etcetera, etcetera.

Cohen: Yeah.

Clarke: And, to me, that’s really valuable. I use the system every day. I’m a really big—you know, I walk the talk. I really believe we need to do that more as an industry. And I really believe that ours is not just a community service for some; it’s a service for our whole community. So those are the kind of fundamentals I put in place. Whether right or wrong, Josh, I don’t know, but that’s how I’m trying to at least lead our agency forward.

Cohen: That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. I really love the simplicity of that as well. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also note that you’re kind of a social-media star in and of yourself here. You’ve got a YouTube series called Tacos & Transit. So tell us a little bit more about that series and where our audience can find that.

Clarke: Oh. Well, thanks. Star might be quite an over statement, but I appreciate that. I never did social media until I took this job. And I don’t do any on a personal level. And the reason I did this is I think it’s beyond critical that in this kind of role you’re open to the public, you’re responsive to the public, and they get a better sense of who you are as a person. And I think that reflects then the mission, etcetera. So I got on Twitter. Feel free if you want to follow at @CapMetroCEO, so C-A-P-M-E-T-R-O-C-E-O. And I basically mostly tweet about all the great things the men and women are doing here at CapMetro, but then I add some fun stuff in there once in a while about my dog and running and some other goofy things.

But, you know, one of the things I talked about with a couple staff members was wouldn’t it be great if we could better reflect all the cool people in our community? So not elected officials, not people that are doing transit stuff, but like people out there that are just interesting people in our city that the public at large either knows or wants to know more about or they run an organization that does really good work. And so Austin is a huge taco town. It’s like ground zero of the taco world. And I actually love tacos, so coming here was really good.

Cohen: [LAUGHS]

Clarke: The bad thing is some days I eat like six of them, so it means I’ve got to run even more. But one day I said to someone, “Why don’t we do a little series called Tacos & Transit?” And so we were like, “Okay, why don’t we do a little blog?” And then we were like, “Ah, maybe we’ll do a little podcast,” kind of like yours. Right? And then I was like, “Well, that’s too long,” for what I wanted to do. So we’re like, “Maybe we’ll do a little video cast, like a couple minute thing.”

And so it was kind of goofy, but we put one together, and we’ve been doing—I don’t know—seven or eight or nine episodes already. And you can get them on our website, or I think you can get them on YouTube. And it’s called CapMetro Tacos & Transit, and I’ve had people like kind of journalists or big media people here that have retired or they’re still in the business, people like the CEO of the Central Texas Food Bank, people that run conservation programs in the city. I think next week I’m doing the police chief and the fire chief, kind of this public safety kind of theme.

But each time what we do is we take our service, so we pick a bus line; they pick a taco joint they want to go to, and we show that you can go anywhere in the city on a bus if you want to. And we take one of our routes, and we go to a taco joint, and I buy them a couple tacos. They tell me about their life and their organization. Sometimes it’s about our partnerships. Like, I’ve done stuff with the superintendent of schools, and we talked a lot about our free fare program for all kids K to 12. And we kind of have a couple tacos, talk about tacos, and then take the bus back and go on our way.

Cohen: That’s great.

Clarke: My big thing—I just want to have fun.

Cohen: Yeah.

Clarke: You know, I don’t know if we have enough fun anymore. And, you know, our work is super serious, so if we could break it up with a little bit of fun, let’s do that.

Cohen: I love it. I love it. Well, I think that’s a great way to wrap it up. Randy, thanks so much for joining me on the movement. I think this is great. I’m super excited about the work you’ve already done with Cap Remap and the future with Project Connect and in the meantime just continuing the wonderful community engagement that you’re really invested in and building towards the goals and the values you’ve set forth there for your staff and your team. So best of luck, and thanks again.

Clarke: Thanks so much for having me, Josh. Appreciate it. Take care.

F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter at @CohenJP. Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.


To learn more about how officials in Vancouver transformed transit in the city, check out this blog post