“You can’t grow if you don’t know” was something I heard repeatedly throughout my interview with Ann Dawson August, executive director at Santee Wateree Regional Transportation Authority (SWRTA).
It was while in the U.S. Army Reserves JAG core that a colonel introduced August to the idea of transit. “One of the colonels that worked with us indicated that the local transit agency was looking for minorities and women to be in a management internship program,” she explains.
She worked for the department of the Army at an Area Maintenance Support Activity (AMSA), and he told her that the transit agency had an equivalent job in its maintenance department.
“[He] told me to bring in a resume and took it to the agency. There were no guarantees in getting a job, the rest would be up to me,” she says.
August went to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) for about 13 years and then to SWRTA, a small urban and rural transit agency. She came to SWRTA as director of transportation and officially became the executive director in 2001.
I asked August about the transition from SEPTA to SWRTA. “It was almost like taking a trip back in time,” she says laughing. “At SEPTA you’re talking about almost 10,000 people and about 1,500 vehicles; people are more specialized in your larger transit agencies.”
She continues, “Here at SWRTA you wear different hats. And the one thing that I’ve enjoyed since I’ve been here is the fact that you get the opportunity to learn it from the bottom up.”
Different size agencies of course have different types of challenges. “At the rural agencies you have a bigger challenge because an operator can drive 20 miles before they pick up the first person. That’s a bigger challenge for us in terms of fuel cost.” She says, “Scheduling becomes a very critical role in the scheme of things.”
The Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA) sponsored the management program August came to SEPTA under. Joining SEPTA provided her with a larger picture of public transportation as a whole. She maintains that it also provided other opportunities. “I felt that getting involved in community or transit organizations would help not only my public speaking skills, but also the team-building and a lot of other things that you sometimes don’t get to do in your normal day-to-day job.”
August was a quality control administrator in the internship program at SEPTA and while in that program, had the opportunity to visit different transit properties. While at other properties she noticed many were having maintenance roadeos.
She tells me, “I asked my director at the time, ‘is there a reason we don’t have a maintenance roadeo?’ and he said, ‘yeah, there is.’
“And I asked, ‘What is it?’
“We haven’t had anybody to oversee it,” she says was his response. To which she replied, “Well, I’ll take it on.”
From that point on, she has been affiliated in one way or another with roadeos. SWRTA’s maintenance team won first place in the state’s bus/maintenance roadeo competition in 2005 and 2007.
Being involved with roadeos and organizations is really important to August. She mentioned that at SWRTA, the employees rotate attending national conferences. “What we try to do is expose people to other transit environments and let them see the bigger picture,” she says. “At a small rural agency like ours, the only thing they would see is what’s in the state of South Carolina.
“In our case, it’s a drop in the bucket to the bigger picture because we’re always being compared as a small 5307, an urbanized agency. Other agencies like that because we’re under the same scrutiny as they are when it comes to reporting processes.” She asserts, “But we don’t have the same staffing level and we don’t receive the type of funding that they would get.”