The board of the Regional Transportation District voted to hire Paul Ballard, former president and CEO of Fort Worth's transit system, to lead the agency on an interim basis.
The RTD board of directors selected Ballard by a 9-6 vote. The agency still needs to agree to the details of Ballard's contract.
Ballard oversaw the creation of a 27-mile commuter line that connected Fort Worth to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. He retired in 2019. Ballard noted that his last position paid $303,000 in his cover letter, with a $50,000 performance bonus.
In an interview, he said he was interested in the position in part because it was temporary and has offered to help the agency find its permanent general manager.
"I see it as a leadership role," he said, providing stability until the board makes a permanent hire.
But that doesn't mean holding off on dealing with the agency's pressing challenges.
"I think the agency can’t bury its head in the sand and say we’ll wait for the permanent person to come in," he said. "There are a lot of decisions that have to be made now," including dealing with driver shortages, examining RTD's finances and the opening of the N Line later this year.
Board chair Angie Rivera-Malpiede said she was impressed by Ballard’s decades of experience running transit agencies. She hopes Ballard, as a new Denver-area resident, will bring an unbiased point of view to the position.
"He brings expertise in terms of looking at the transit system and the issues that are occurring, and advising us on what we need to do to turn this around,” she said.
Just minutes after announcing their choice, the board moved on to the search for a permanent executive. They set the budget for that national search at $200,000 — half of what RTD staff initially proposed. That process could take anywhere from four to fourteen months.
“This is the show,” said board member Doug Tisdale.
If the contract is approved, Ballard will take over as the district’s top employee at a particularly turbulent time. A recent survey shows a lack of confidence among employees of the agency’s leaders and its long-term health. The board is considering a plan to cut service in order to deal with a shortage of some 160 bus and light rail operators. Ballard said he predicted looking at training and new operator on-boarding to address the shortage.
"I think we need to look at how we treat all our employees," he said. "Are we doing all those things that tend to make people want to be loyal and want to stay with us?"
Earlier on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of state legislators introduced a bill that would make a slate of changes to RTD — including adding more oversight, expanding the board of directors to include two at-large members and two ex-officio representatives from state government, and loosening a requirement that RTD cover a set percentage of its operating costs through fares. That’s intended to allow the agency to lower its pricey fares.
RTD itself is in the midst of a two-year process, called “Reimagine RTD,” that could lead to dramatic changes to how it does business — including where and how often to run buses across the agency’s vast 2,342-square mile district.
The RTD board had selected five finalists, including two internal and three external candidates.
Ballard praised RTD's progress on opening new commuter lines quickly and simultaneously. He said he anticipated being on board later in February.