Greater Cleveland transit looks to move forward with new CEO

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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Greater Cleveland RTA substitutes bus for rail during track construction.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Board of Trustees voted to enter negotiations with India Birdsong, a veteran of large transit systems in Chicago and Nashville, to become RTA’s next Chief Executive Officer and General Manager.

The Board voted unanimously to enter into contract negotiations with Birdsong after a nationwide search conducted with the assistance of top-ranking executive search firm Krauthamer and Associates.

“We interviewed nine excellent candidates for this job over the course of many months,” said Board member Georgine Welo, who served on the search committee. “India stood apart. She’s personable, innovative and she understands public transit at every level, from the bus garage to the executive offices. Cleveland transit riders are about to get a champion and a passionate advocate.”

Birdsong would succeed Joseph Calabrese, who stepped down from the CEO role in September after 18 years. Interim CEO Dr. Floun’say Caver will return to his role as RTA’s Chief Operating Officer/Deputy General Manager of Operations.

Birdsong is Chief Operating Officer of WeGo Public Transit, Nashville’s public transportation authority. In that role, she’s responsible for leadership of over 550 employees, including union and administrative staffers, two garages and maintenance shops, a commuter rail line and a downtown transfer central hub.

Over the past year, the Nashville system has launched a number of improvements and initiatives, including updated bus routes with tracking services on a mobile app and tech upgrades like USB chargers and free Wi-Fi on buses.

Before joining the Nashville system in 2015, Birdsong spent nine years with the Chicago Transit Authority where she held a variety of roles, including senior manager of bus supervision and instruction for the Central Region, leading operations for a CTA Operating Division, bus operator instruction, and special events planning. She began her career there as an operations planner.

In Cleveland, Birdsong would oversee 2,300 employees and a $218 million annual budget.

Welo noted that the search committee sought input from the entire community as the process began and incorporated many suggestions into the job description. Besides the RTA Board, Birdsong also met with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and the executive committee of the Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association.

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