I hadn’t known about all that the North County Transit District (NCTD) provided until I started doing some background research. And then I didn’t feel too bad once I found out Executive Director Matthew Tucker himself didn’t know about the agency until a phone call from a recruiter telling him of a job opening. “I never heard of it,” he laughs. And to the recruiter he asked, “What do they do?”
When he heard about all the NCTD had going on and after he came to see it first hand, he thought it was the place for him. With a young family — a daughter that’s 8 and a son that’s 6 — and a work-family balance that had been out of whack, the NCTD offered unique challenges and the right balance.
Oceanside is a quiet military town, with the Marines in town on the weekends. As Tucker says with a laugh, if you’re looking to go downtown, you’re going to downtown San Diego.
But this place with a small-town feel is a regional transportation hub with connecting rail service to San Diego, LA’s Metrolink and Amtrak.
Challenges Build Experience
Tucker came to the NCTD in December of 2008, previously serving as the director of the Virginia Department of Railway and Public Transportation, working for the governor of Virginia. A native Virginian, he went to school in Richmond, was in the ROTC and served his military obligation and when he returned from that, it was a down cycle in the economy and, he says, “I couldn’t find the types of jobs that we all hope for after we spend all that money and take out those student loans.”
Like many others, Tucker started at ATE. He started as a finance intern and continued to advance in the company and in the industry.
He spent two-and-a-half years at the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit. “The challenges are really, really big,” he stresses. “You’re working really 24/7.
“We had one of the biggest projects in the history of the commonwealth, which was the Dulles Rail Extension.” He continues, “During that time period I was there, you’ll remember a little discussion about the tunnel going underground; I was the poor guy that was having to work through all of those issues.
“It was probably the most challenging job that one could ever think of, but it was probably the most rewarding in terms of just really giving you experience and insight in to how transportation really comes together in a really multi-modal way.”
During the interview process with the board of the NCTD, it was laid out that the system faced some significant financial challenges. They were looking at a deficit that was approaching about 80 million dollars over a five-year period.
“What was clear to me was that we sort of had a shared philosophy of saying, OK, let’s think about this in the context of a business and let facts and analysis drive our decision and business-making process,” Tucker says.
“When we started looking at the different things we could do, you could drop off service levels probably 30 to 50 percent and you would still have a financial problem,” he stresses. “So what does that mean? That means that you have massive layoffs and massive service cuts and still be in a terrible way. I don’t see how that benefits anybody.”
Looking for Solutions
There are a lot of questions in our industry about funding, profitability to grow systems, business cost models, the fluctuation of funding and service levels and as a result, Tucker says, “The public is sort of left with the viewpoint that it’s a difficult to transition to make to transit because they don’t know if the service level is going to be here today and then gone tomorrow.”
The decisions they’ve made at the NCTD Tucker says are significant policy matters and from their viewpoint, the best solution for their agency.
“There are lots of different answers dependent upon which community that you live in,” Tucker says.