There is a story in Fort Worth, Texas, about a Depression-era Dallas attorney (and former Fort Worth resident) who said things were so quiet in town that he’d seen “a panther asleep on Main Street, undisturbed by the rush of men or the hum of trade.” The intended slur was taken to heart by Fort Worth residents and became an enduring symbol.
The same could be said for its sleepy little transit system, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, or The T, which is poised to pounce on a variety of new transit plans, including commuter rail and streetcar lines.
Its executive director, Dick Ruddell, is a perfect fit for Fort Worth with such a natural, down-home attitude and slow drawl that you wouldn’t know he was from Kansas. Growing up in Wichita, he returned from serving in Vietnam to find he had few employment options. Taking advantage of a government program, Ruddell was hired by the local transit authority as a transit analyst, which as he describes revolved around riding buses and interviewing passengers.
“I asked the guy who hired me. I asked him I have a degree in psychology, if I was doing this I would have been looking for business majors. Why did you hire me?
“He said we were, but I just saw your resume and I thought with a psychology degree I thought you could analyze what the passengers were saying,” Ruddell laughs.
Ruddell said his first real permanent job in transit came when he was asked to do a run cut — a job he had no idea how to do whatsoever.
“My first task of doing the permanent job was to do a run cut. They didn’t have anybody at the time to do scheduling and run cutting. This was before Trapeze, there was no computers. It was all manual.
“And the superintendent of transportation gave me this task and he said, ‘We’re trying to do a new run assignment for all the drivers, and it hadn’t been done for a while because our scheduler quit like two years ago and nobody knows how to do this, so take a shot at this and see if you can do it,’” Ruddell says.
Ruddell says he was literally on his own and just looked at what they had done before and designed a new run assignment based on those parameters.
Walking into his supervisor’s office, he handed him the assignment and said, “Well there’s my best shot at it.
“And he said, ‘Wow that’s the first new run assignment we’ve had in two years.’”
After talking with the general manager he hired Ruddell and put him in charge of scheduling.
“Before very long I’m reading in the newspaper about stuff I’m working on. And I thought this is really cool. You know, I felt like I was having an impact on my community.
“And that more than anything is what convinced me or attracted me to the business,” Ruddell says.
“This is really cool. I don’t know nothing. I just started here, and here I am working on something that the community is interested in. They’re writing about it in the paper. I’m having an impact on my community,” Ruddell laughs.
And he’s been in transit ever since. After a dozen years in Wichita, Ruddell left for the state capital where he would lead the Topeka transit system for several years before taking the reins in Toledo, Ohio.
“About the time I moved up there my kids were getting to school age. They were four and six,” Ruddell says.
“They were just starting elementary school. So once you move into a community and your kids start school, it gets harder to move. So basically I stayed there until my kids got through high school.”
It was after his kids had left for college that Ruddell got the call about a position in Fort Worth. And seven years later, he’s made this former cowtown his home.
Ruddell says Tarrant County, where Fort Worth is located, is the most conservative county in Texas. “These people, their first choice has always been for their whole life, I want my pickup and I want be able to go where and when I want to go in my own pickup, and if you want to have public transit OK for my neighbor or for somebody else to take just to clear the road so I can drive my pickup where I want to go.