Episode 7: What It Takes To Build “Mobility for Everyone”

TransLoc MarketingThe Movement Podcast

 

Featuring Greater Dayton RTA’s Mark Donaghy… [more context and any links/videos]

 

The Movement
Episode 007: What It Takes To Build “Mobility for Everyone”

Cohen: Josh Cohen
Donaghy: Mark Donaghy

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 Mark Donaghy from the Dayton RTA in Dayton, Ohio. Mark and I had a phone call several months ago, which really resonated with me. A lot of the themes that he talked about were really interesting to me as it relates to leadership and building trust in the community, so these are some of the topics we want to cover today; so welcome, Mark.
Donaghy: Thanks for the opportunity, Josh. I’m excited about it.
Cohen: Well, good. Well, Mark, maybe before we get started maybe go ahead and just give us a little bit of your background, how you ended up at Dayton, and what that journey has been like.
Donaghy: So this is going to be a couple-hour conversation. [LAUGHTER] I’ve been in the industry a long time. I entered the industry in 1976 on a part-time basis as a bus driver and lost what I thought at the time was my good job, which was in the grocery industry. So I went in one morning to the dispatcher and said, “You know, I really could use some more hours while I figure out what I want to do with my life,” and I’ve been here ever since, so the progression has been kind of interesting. I was one of those people to work my way up through the ranks. I had been a college dropout, so in the process I went back to college and finished and went around to a number of systems, so I’ve done pretty much every job in the industry from cleaning the busses, to repairing the busses, to what I do today. And I’ve done it in a number of cities.
I started in Omaha, Nebraska and worked in Saint Paul, Minnesota for a brief period then Manchester, New Hampshire, or I should say Manchestah—I was there for a while. Loved it there, a beautiful system there—then to northern Kentucky. I headed west to get my first general manager’s job in Missoula, Montana, a beautiful place. I was there for four years, went back to northern Kentucky as the general manager, and now I’m in Dayton. I kind of stumbled into the Dayton job and have loved it. It’s a great system. It’s very unique for people who haven’t been to Dayton because we’re one of the remaining five operators of electric trolley busses, so we have a great deal of electric infrastructure, seven urban routes, over 120 miles of overhead infrastructure. So for me it was my first system that I’ve worked that had dabbled in electric.
We’ve been continuously running electric operations there since 1870, so some of the infrastructure looks like it’s been there since 1870, but it’s fascinating. And we’re now bringing in a new fleet of busses that operate both on and off the infrastructure because of the battery technology, and we think that it’s a great, next step for us to leverage the existing assets that we have into this new product where it enables us to run electric service now to areas we couldn’t before mainly because of the batter technology and then we use our infrastructure to charge the batteries obviously.
It’s a great system for a community its size, medium-sized city, very Rust Belt city. We were a General Motors town, and they left around 2007, I want to say. They closed their plant there, so we’re in our next evolution now in Dayton, which is more on the research end. The University of Dayton specifically has brought a lot of players to town like Emerson Electric; GE Aviation has made a big investment; and they partner a lot, obviously, with the Air Force base we have there on research as well. So there are a lot of new, cool things happening in Dayton that are attracting people into the community as well as keeping some of our brainpower. You know, everybody worries about the young folks finishing school and then going on to another city. Now we’re able to maintain a lot of that brainpower right there in Dayton, and there’s been a resurgence in downtown as well with the younger generation who think they don’t want to cut grass; they want to spend their time kayaking on the Great Miami River or whatever, and they can do that, literally walk out their door and have those sorts of amenities. So it’s a really cool city. It’s kind of a fun time to be there, as it’s coming out of that recession and going in a totally different direction, which I think is great for the city.
Cohen: Well, I can hear in your voice just how much you kind of really enjoy this, and I guess that’s a nice characteristic, I would think, for you to be in this role and to be able to be in the city as it’s growing and evolving. That seems like it fits very nicely.
Donaghy: It’s definitely who I am, and I’ve told all three of my kids, “You need to find what you really love to do, and find a way to make a living with that,” because it’s really critical. And for me I’ve done a lot of different things over the years, but what I know for sure is I love being on a system and I love being able to walk out. Yesterday I was almost late to the airport because I went to grab something from one of the food trucks to eat, and I met this lady who had just moved back to Dayton and hadn’t been there in 30 years and had questions about bus service. And I saw her heading back to our main hub, and I said, “Man, I’ve got to get her some more information,” so I ended up spending about a half an hour talking to her about what she had been doing for 30 years, and I looked down and said, “Oh, my god. I’ve got to get to the airport. I’ve got to go to D.C.,” but I think people there that know me know that.
They joke in Dayton that you could never be undercover boss because everybody knows him. I do occasionally get out and drive a bus. That’s pretty rare anymore, but I do spend a lot of time with our employees and our customers because it’s critical, I think, to get that perspective, and I think some of our best decisions come from our employees and our customers, and they know me well. I mean, we’re big enough; we move about 30,000 people a day, so we’re not small by any means. So it’s a lot of people out there, but a lot of them, they know me. And a couple of times when I’ve been out driving a bus you can hear people in the back say, “You know who that guy is?” and we have a little fun with those sorts of things.
But it is true; I really have found that this is an industry that can grab ahold of you, and it has for me, and it’s been a great deal of fun, and it’s interesting in a way. I think it’s really exciting today with what’s happening, and I’m very happy to be in a place where we’re empowered and we’re empowered by our local, appointed board to do the things that we need to do. All the talk we’re hearing here in D.C. about MaaS and mobility, you know, we subscribe to a pretty basic vision in Dayton that we want mobility for everyone, and that means that if we’re true to that vision we really have to get our blinders off and realize that it’s going to come in such a totally different form than we’re used to.
One of the things I’m really excited about with what we’ve been doing in Dayton along with, obviously, Brandon Policicchio who is leading the effort in our shop, is that if we do this right I think our fixed route system is going to be better. I think it’s going to be much better in the end, and yet we’ll be delivering more service to more people who in some cases had access to no service before, and we’ve already proven that in one of our first experiments that we did in our agreement with Lyft. So I’m excited that in a few years—will we be a model? I don’t know. But will we be moving people in that region the way they should be and giving them the access they need? I absolutely believe it. I think it’s going to be fun to watch it all happen.
Cohen: One thing that resonated with me as you kind of gave your biography there is that you started as a bus driver, and then you kind of listed all of the different jobs. You’ve probably done every job that you can have at the agency or at a transit agency, and I guess I’m wondering what kind of empathy that that builds for your staff and for the roles that they have to play since you’ve actually been in most of those roles. I’m wondering how that impacts you as a leader.
Donaghy: Well, I think it’s a blessing arguably that I understand where they’re coming from. You know, when we see something as simple as we do run cuts in this industry, and computers generate these things that say, “Look. We can save $1,000 a week if we do this,” and people like me will say, “Well, wait a minute.” When you look some of the runs, you know, we do a lot of split shifts in our industry. We may be the last of those industries to do that. Those are bad enough. Well, suddenly we would see the computer said, “You can be really efficient if the second part of this person’s split starts at 10:00 p.m.” and I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” You know?
I said, “If we’re going to make people drive a bus until 2:00 in the morning, those should probably be straight pieces of work,” and those are things—yeah, you know, I get that. Or the guys working in the shop, even though the technology they’re using today is so much improved over what we had when I worked in a shop, but, you know, the little things like they understand—they really do—that if we manage and save all our scrap for example—it seems like a simple things—we generate probably $100,000 a year in scrap. And we make it clear to them, “We’re going to invest that back into your work environment through equipment and whatever you need to make your world better.” Then they get it; it starts to click with them, “It’s a good reason that I do this. It’s not only good for the environment, but there’s a good end result for us as mechanics,” because they understand we’ll always have new needs for equipment and we’ll get that done.
So it definitely helps me have perspective. And anybody in our industry who has moved around a bit—and I have. I’m in my seventh and maybe final stop—the first six months you get a lot of testing going on. So you go in the shop and they’ll say something like, “Well, you know, we’re taking the winter air out of the tires,” just to see if you know a damn thing about what you’re doing. And I’m always careful to say I couldn’t do what they do today. You know, in my day my toolbox was very small compared to what these guys are using; plus, they need laptops now to do diagnostics.
But I do think if they feel you’ve got some sense of what they go through and how the work has to be prioritized and all of that and what they do just to get through a night, say, in a service lane, to get all our buses serviced and, we hope, identify little problems before they become huge problems, I know for a fact that they appreciate that somebody can listen to them and at least have some basic sense of understanding. So I think it’s a blessing for me. Not everybody gets that opportunity. I think smart CEOs find a way to get some exposure.
When I went to Dayton, I’d never touched an electric bus. So in my first six months I spent days at a time in our trolley shop inside, underneath, on top, everywhere. I wanted the trolley mechanics to make me understand how is this different from a standard, diesel bus. In fact, it was one of the trolley mechanics that taught me how to drive a trolley bus. He says, “Come on. We’ll get out there and show you how to do this.” And it is different. So, yeah, I think there is value in that, and I definitely feel to some degree that people appreciate it, and it’s just one of the tools I have where I may lack tools in another area, but then my endgame is know who you are, know your role, know what your capabilities are, and then surround yourself with people that know the things you don’t. And that’s another thing we’ve done not just in Dayton but other places I’ve worked, to say, “I know I’m comfortable here.”
We do it even on our appointed board; sometimes we’ll ask the county or the city, “Hey, we could really use an IT person.” We were doing a huge IT investment a few years ago. We ended up getting the University of Dayton’s IT director, and it was perfect because we were doing these huge procurements, and we really wanted that sounding board, and it was a great—those kinds of things you do. And looking back that’s always been the answer to me, is never try to bullshit your way through something; be honest and upfront. You know, “I don’t know a damn thing about this, but let’s go find out. Let’s find the people who do,” and, I think, when you do that you have good outcomes, and I think we heard some of that today in the meetings here.
Cohen: Definitely. We’re sitting here today at the APTA transit leadership summit, and we’ve had a number of sessions today that have covered a number of great topics. And in one I’d kind of like to talk about here, is that a theme that this conference has kind of gone over and also one that we shared on a phone call earlier this year is really understanding what your community needs kind of as a first step. And Katharine Kelleman from the Port Authority of Pittsburgh kind of reinforced that in the last session. And you mentioned mobility for everyone as kind of this theme that your board has kind of given you some freedom to go pursue, and so maybe help me understand from your perspective what your community really needs and kind of how you came to this mobility for everyone.
Donaghy: It’s a great question, and I think in our case I want to believe it was just darn-good management, that we said, “We’re looking at the future. What does the future tell us about what we do and how we’ve done it for many, many years?” And we intentionally drug out all our system maps. We found system maps going back 80, 90 years for this system, and, like most cities, you can almost overlay them year to year to year, and when you get to the present time they’re just farther out, but they’re pretty much extensions of the original radial bus network. And, for us, we started seeing the communities definitely shifting.
Traffic patterns are changing, job locations. Like, in most cities they for a long time were migrating to the beltway in most cities. When I was in the Cincinnati area, that was huge down there, and it took the mid ’90s to convince some folks in northern Kentucky that, “You know, you’re having this boom for a reason. Now you’re going to have to service it,” that 80% of the jobs in these logistics facilities are people who really could use public transportation and we need to just focus on that.
So for us in Dayton we started to see a lot of things. Our MPO does a great job in the Miami Valley region with data. And in our future planning we started to look at, “Well, where are the shifts going to be?” And a couple of things that stuck out for me personally was—because one is very personal. So by the year 2030 the senior population in our community will grow by 55%, so that obviously includes me. And the first time I heard that number I thought, “Well, 2030;” well, that’s 12 years from now.
Cohen: Yeah.
Donaghy: It’s not that far off. And in our community the population of people with a disability will grow by over 20% in that same time period. There’s a lot of good news in that. We’re all living longer, which is great; we’re all pretty much able to age in place, so we’re able to stay home; institutionalizing people costs fortunes. These are all good things. So what’s going to be the missing element? Every single one of us is likely to outlive our ability to drive a car by eight to 10 years. That’s a great thing. That means we’re living longer, right? We’re going to need a ride, and I think the challenge for people like me in our industry is the traditional way we’ve done business would never address that need because we’re really looking at a lot more point-to-point and it could well be suburb-to-suburb transportation demands that we’re not fantastic at, and I think that’s something that in Dayton we readily recognize.
So we know that’s happening. We know in our case—our community is a good example—a lot of our jobs are at the base on the east end of our service area or to the south or to the far north, not as much concentration in downtown, which is interesting because downtown has become the place to live. So we have over 99% occupancy of housing in downtown, and they can’t build new units fast enough. It is just an incredible growth spurt. We think there’s room for probably 5,000 to 10,000 more housing units in the core, and it’s just fantastic, but most of those folks don’t work downtown, so that, to me, is something. Now, I think it will mean eventually more employers will migrate back downtown.
So we’ve got to look at all these different things. So we’ve got to just restructure how we approach business in my head, and that’s what started us down this path to say, one, “We can’t do it alone,” and, two, “We should focus on what we’re really good at.” Now, we own a lot of technology. We’re probably the only ones in the region that own the amount of transportation technology that we do, so should that be our focus, is leveraging our technology and our physical assets to make sure that we can provide the rides that need to be provided?
So that may well mean that we’re not actually transporting all those folks; it’s going to likely be done by a variety of providers, and hopefully some of those are private, for profit. I hope it works out. And we know—today we have three organizations that are under contract to us—that that’s their game, and they’re fitting a need for us in certain areas of our general service area that we know it just would never be productive for us to serve, and I don’t even think it would work necessarily well for our paratransit operation even though it would serve an area like that.
You know, the word “integrator” has been used a lot today, and that is really, in the end, what we think we should be. We think we should be that integrator, and we have another kind of a side to the vision that I’ve shared many times with the ODOT director Jerry Wray who is a heart-and-soul road guy. He came up in the asphalt industry. He’s a very nice guy, and we struck up kind of a friendship when I was president of our state association, and to this day we still talk. And he wanted to learn more about what all this means, and I said, “You know, Jerry, there are over 70 programs that fund transportation at the federal level, and there’s even more at the state level, and some at the local level.” I said, “If you needed to build a bridge, I’m the last guy you would want to call. Right?” He said, “Probably.” And I said, “But, you know, if you want to move your mother to a destination, I’m the first guy you should call,” so it’s all about focus on what you really know how to do, and for us I think it’s that integration.
So our endgame really is that any publicly generated funds spent in our region that are for transportation really should flow through us. We should be integrating what it takes to get things done, and if that means a partnership with Lyft like we’re doing now, we’re going to do that. If it’s with the veterans administration, which we started, if it’s not emergency medical transportation we’re doing that. We’re going to carry over 40,000 new people this year in a variety of products that we’ve never had before, from bicycles—no scooters yet. “Yet,” I’ll say, because I think we’re going to get them—and the non-emergency trips. Even the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, we’re now a contractor for them, and on that one we’re not providing any direct service. It’s just we’re managing transportation for them in a model that we think can be applied across the state.
So, long story, very long, that’s what we’re trying to do, is say, “Figure out where people need to go in the future. What is really the best, most efficient way to move them, and then how do you manage that?” So, for me, by the time I turn the key over to somebody else my hope is that every person in our entire urban area will be able to either on their smartphone or through a series of clicks on a computer or on a telephone, when they’re one they have transportation, that there’s never going to be a no or, “Hey, you need to call so-and-so,” or, you know, “We don’t do that.” It’s just—no—we’re going to find you a ride and eliminate all these what we call dead zones, we used to call them in our region. They’re out there.
And you would get this call, and you get a few of these every year to say, “We’ve got this person.” The last one I got was a retired minister. He just wanted to get to church on Sundays, and sure enough he lived in one of these dead zones in the middle of a rural area, and I said, “My god, there’s got to be a way to get this guy a ride to church,” and eventually he’s going to need a ride to the doctor too and all that, so that’s it. You know, we are very confident that we can make it happen. We’ve been very fortunate to have a board that has let us invest in our physical assets with the facility. We actually built our call center to be expanded by a significant amount, and we’ve started to add technology. We’ve made a huge investment in technology the last few years, and we will make more.
So we’re going to integrate all of it right down to—the people in this industry, I think they chuckle when I say it—I don’t intend to have fare boxes on my busses in two years. And they just don’t think it can happen. I know it will happen, and I know we’ll make it happen, and I don’t really care if we’re the first. I don’t at all. What I care about is it’ll be so seamless for a person to ride any vehicle that we either own or contract with to get to where they need to go, and then we’ll get all these byproducts. Like, if you ask most of the transit CEOs in the room to look at what are the reasons of mechanical failures on busses, I can tell you for mine that 35% of everyday mechanical failures is a fare box.
Cohen: Wow.
Donaghy: So you can imagine how much service time I’ve lost, how much I’ve been impact, how much revenue I’ve lost, because the first thing we do is, one we do, is keep the bus rolling; we just bag the box. We don’t collect money. So imagine what will happen, which is buy them basically by your phone or if for some reason you’re that one person left on the planet Earth that doesn’t have a smartphone, you know, we’ll get you a card, but we’ll have it. We’ll have this technology that will make it so seamless that it’ll be great. And I just love it that we have the ability in Dayton—and, again, I credit our board—to take these steps to make all this happen.
Cohen: So I want to dig into that a little bit, because you mentioned your board and them empowering you and so forth a couple of times. And we touched on this in the session this morning in relationship to Vision Zero. And one of the things that the keynote speaker, David Zipper talked about was that sometimes the local officials don’t actually make the decisions necessary in order to effectively achieve a Vision Zero and zero pedestrian or deaths from biking or ped. I guess my point on that as it relates to your situation is, I guess, how did you get your board to buy into this, especially considering that this was kind of a new approach? So I guess I want to understand that because, again, if others can learn from that—right? Is it the secret sauce of your board? Do you just have some unique folks there? Is there some prep that you did to lay the foundation there? Help me understand so that maybe our audience can learn from that as well.
Donaghy: It may be all of the above. And I would tell you that before I even applied for the job in Dayton I sat through a couple of their board meetings because I wanted to do my homework on who are these folks and what is their intent. You know, how do they approach their work as policymakers? Because I’ve been in the business long enough to know—in fact, I left one transit system simply because I thought the board got way out of bounds. They got way away from policy and too far into the weeds on the day-to-day operations of a very small transit system, which meant we had five-hour board meetings. It was insane, the level of detail they were interested in.
So, first of all, I came into a very fortunate situation where I could see that this board was high-functioning, they stayed on the policy level of issues, and that they appeared to have that support from their appointing authorities. So for a guy like me your board is everything. You live or die by the board, so I thought, “Wow, this is a—” and then you look at the backgrounds of the folks. It would be arguably what most people would call kind of chamber-of-commerce board, people from every walk of life, and some very opinionated, obviously, in their way, but a great group that can check and balance people like us but at the same time you can make a case to them for an issue and say—let’s just say bike share.
So when we wanted to step into the bike share world there were heads shaking immediately, and we started selling them on this idea of the first/last mile, this is another asset for the community that, you know, every community that wants to be somebody is doing this. You know, so why not do something in a little different way than most communities do where in the end it could help price it better in our community, maybe make it a little more successful? So in that way we’re lucky to have people like that.
The board, for me, also serves as a buffer sometimes between the political issues. When they say you can’t get to these zero goals for a reason, politics is what’s behind it. So, for us, whether it’s a tough labor issue, which we’ve had, or even issues of a greater scale, they’re our buffer, and they know they are. Some of them will know that they’re going to get a call from a county commissioner or the mayor and say, “Hey, why would you want to do this?” and they’ll stand up and fight for it. So I think their role is obviously critical, and we’re fortunate to have a group like that. And there are plenty of cities I don’t think that have that. They’re very political. Over the 13 years I’ve been there, we’ve sold them on a lot of great things.
We first did a reorganization and got the organization where we thought it should be. And once we did I said, “We should adopt pay for performance.” And the eyes all lit up, and I said, “You know, there’s nothing worse than public sector employment where your best employee gets the same raise your worst employee gets.” I said, “We’ve got to fix that here.” I said, “And trust me; we’ll be able to do that within the boundaries of what should be right financially and in a budget way.” So these folks eventually blessed a plan where the buck really stops with me.
So we do everything from—actually your annual salary increase is governed by your performance, and then there are opportunities for people who go way over the top to get merit increases, and they stay completely out of it. They don’t put names to salaries. They bless how we do it. They bless basically a chart that shows ranges for each position and then a matrix we use to apply each year to say, “If Josh did X, and he comes out at a four and he’s at this point in the salary chart, he might get 4.5% this year. If Josh landed here in his evaluation, he gets nothing this year, and he’s probably on a performance improvement plan that’s either going to lead to great results or future employment elsewhere,” and we’ve adhered to it pretty strictly. So those are the kinds of things that a good board, I think, will buy into.
Cohen: Sure.
Donaghy: They also basically take no role in any of the selections of my direct reports. And then they say to me, “You’re responsible for that group.” And what’s been fascinating about that for me is I in turn do that with my direct reports, and I all the time when there is a job opening have people coming, especially current employees, that say, “I want you to put the word in for me,” and I said, “I won’t do that.” I said, “You’ve got to go sell yourself to Chris Cole or to Brandon or to Mary because they are empowered to make that decision, and I’m not going to lie to you.” I do not get involved in it because I think it’s the right thing to do. So it’s that kind of an environment. So then when you start bringing in things like, “Hey, we should get into bike share,” they buy in. They give us a chance to make it happen, what we’re doing on the fare systems, some of these recent changes, and even some oddities.
You know, we did an expansion of our paratransit boundary as an experiment, and it turns out Brandon’s people were right; it wasn’t going to be the end of the world. We weren’t going to be overrun with demand. But guess what. There are no more dead zones in our area, so little things like that. And we’ve even done some of what we call premium service things, which lead to our arrangement with the veterans, the VA, because we have a strong VA presence in Dayton. We have a VA medical facility, and with the base we have a lot of retired military. So all those things combined, I think, work.
But, again, the role of the board has been to say—we pitch ideas, and what we do is we take them very early on; we start to sell them on the concept, and then over a period of time, usually not a year, we slowly sell them on the concept, and then we pitch them, “Here’s a pilot project we would like to do.” A couple of years ago Brandon took five different proposals to the board, and I said, “You take this to the board. This is your baby.” And during the meeting where it was first being discussed on the level of a decision being made I leaned over to one of the other older folks and I said, “What do you think? Three? You think he’ll get three?” And he got all five. I didn’t think he’d get all five, and it was just fun to see.
Now, on the flipside of that, I tell people like Brandon, “We are the beneficiaries of a great deal of trust by this board,” so, you know, we have to knock these things out of the park, and when we guess wrong on one we’ve got to right up front be honest about it and say, “This one is not working out. It’s time to move on and do something a little different.” And I’ve argued I’m the envy of some of my peers for a couple of reasons. I have a very strong board. In my time in Dayton the entire board has turned over, so all are new from the day I arrived, and to the credit of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County primarily they continue to appoint—and they even seek our advice—people of very broad backgrounds and experience.
So we have everything from the retired managing partner of Coopers, Price Waterhouse for all southwest Ohio, the entire Cincinnati-Dayton region, two people who have owned their own business, we have an attorney—you’ve got to have one attorney—and you name it. People from higher education, we’ve had a couple of those, HR backgrounds, even a former media person, which was interesting, and she’s been great. We call her my conscience. She’s the one that will nudge me if she thinks I’m going to say the wrong thing in a public meeting.
But so you get that, and what’s amazing to me is you bring all that diversity together, they as a group get along extremely well. They will argue at times, and they’re very open with each other about why they say, “Well, I don’t think I like this idea or that idea,” but, in the end they generally come to a strong consensus.
Cohen: Well, one thing I want to kind of pull from that—in order to get where we need to go—and you call it mobility for everyone; Ford calls it the City of Tomorrow, whatever that is, everyone has got a different vision, but most of them are more green, more accessible, more equitable, so forth. The only way we’re going to get there is by making decisions, and so what I’m hearing from you is that your team there, your board, even some of the elected officials or appointed officials are pretty mindful in their decision-making. And I think without that, I think, we’re never going to get where we are, no matter what the technology available to us is. Right?
Donaghy: I would absolutely agree, and I would say that people have to be willing to take risk too. In 42 years in this industry I can tell you my greatest successes have been the biggest risks I’ve taken. And it’s interesting, and not everything that I’ve taken on that was risky panned out, but it’s fascinating to me that some of the biggest successes I’ve had in organizations were ones where they scared me to death. I mean, one was a very large real-estate purchase of a parking garage basically, and within six months I was out of spaces running park-and-ride service out of it. I was actually overflowing into a lot across the street and having what I would call a good problem, so I think there’s that combination, and I think willingness to take some level of risk; I think Ford is a good example. Look what they’re doing. I mean, who’d have thought they’d be heading in the paths that they’re heading in right now.
Cohen: It’s really amazing.
Donaghy: We’ve been working with the GoRide people, obviously, in Dayton, and that’s kind of cool. That makes me glad I bought a Ford, even though in the future I won’t need to buy one. Right?
Cohen: Right. Right.
Donaghy: I’m just going to have to get on my phone and get a ride. I think it’s neat. I think everybody is starting to slowly get there, but I think that the risk element is important, and I think for us that means being willing to try a variety of things knowing that a couple of them may not pan out, and the naysayers may focus on those couple, which is good. Now, there’s a benefit to being me in this process. Easier to take risk at my age than for young people, and I think of when I started in the business you were always apprehensive about your next paycheck. It’s kind of nicer to be in a position where I’m more comfortable taking risks and much more comfortable letting younger folks who have great ideas say, “Well, let’s massage it a little, but we’re going to let you run with this and show us what you can do,” and it’s great fun.
So I think it’s a great combination. And you’re right. I mean, it’s like the video, the heaven or hell of autonomous vehicles, you know. And it’ll be one or the other. Right? But I think if we’re smart enough we’ll make the right decisions and those things will happen. And I think you’re seeing it even in the Midwestern communities where they say everything starts on the coast and works its way to the middle. I chuckled a while back because the City of Dayton is putting a lot more bike lanes in. We have the largest paved bike path network in the nation right now.
Cohen: Wow.
Donaghy: But on city streets once you got into downtown Dayton it was kind of a free-for-all. And we’re seeing the city move to really a smart-streets approach or complete streets, I guess, is the appropriate term where they’re calming the streets, they’re adding the pedestrian and bike facilities, and it’s having the impact that it really should. I mean, this idea that, I think, in the past we really thought we needed to move cars fast, and what we did is create a one-way street network which is, you know, people are going 50 miles an hour in a downtown area; they just blew by a beautiful brewpub that they could have stopped at and had a beer.
So I love that in our community we’re seeing that happen. So every new road project these things are being incorporated, and I think some of the naysayers are seeing that, “Wow. It wasn’t the end of the world because they lost this one lane out of five,” in the net result. But it is that future that if we don’t start making those smart decisions—I did an op-ed recently in our paper because the paper pushed up the issue of induced demand. It’s one of my favorite subjects.
Cohen: Of course.
Donaghy: So I got on my sprawl soapbox about I really think we’ve already made the mess. You know, when I was a kid I walked to school. My grandkids cannot walk to school because we’ve designed an environment that they can’t. They live in cul-de-sacs, and schools are in another cul-de-sac, and we’ve created these traffic jams in front of elementary and middle schools. So it’s not going to be simple to undo that because it’s there now. Right? Plus we have the infrastructure built that we know today the federal gas tax doesn’t deliver enough revenue to maintain what we have, let alone expand anything, so down the road there’s going to be a kind of a reckoning when it comes to all that too, but that’s another area where the technology, if applied correctly, I would say, should help us with those solutions if we do it right. But it’ll be fascinating to watch.
Cohen: Well, it certainly will be, and I’m grateful that we have leaders like you in the industry, and I look forward to having more folks who are willing to build empathy with their teams and with the community and to build great relationships with their boards and with elected officials and hopefully make good decisions that will benefit us all down the road. So thank you so much for joining me, Mark.
Donaghy: Well, Josh, it was a pleasure, and my hope is that someday when you read about Dayton—everybody knows about Orville and Wilber—that maybe you’ll hear that maybe Mark and Brandon made a difference too in their time in Dayton. [LAUGHS]Cohen: That would be great. Thanks, Mark.
Donaghy: Thank you.
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 TransLoc.com or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter at @CohenJP. Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.
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