Director of Transportation and Interim General Manager
Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority/StarTran Inc.
Leadership APTA graduate (2006) Dottie Watkins was appointed to interim general manager of StarTran Inc., a Capital Metro service provider, in October 2010, and is responsible for about 900 employees providing fixed route bus operations and paratransit service. Watkins’ appointment marked the 10th promotion she has received since beginning her career in 1993 as a 19-year-old working part time as a bus driver while she attended the University of Texas at Austin. Later, Watkins would also earn her MBA while working full-time — she graduated with a 4.0.
This past year, Watkins was the chief engineer behind a new contracting model for the University of Texas at Austin shuttle service. Capital Metro operates one of the largest university shuttle systems in the country. Previously, the university and Capital Metro split the cost to provide dedicated UT Shuttle routes, and all UT personnel could ride for free on regular city fixed-route buses. Ridership on the UT Shuttles had been declining, but student ridership on regular city buses had been increasing steadily over the last several years. Watkins saw a lost opportunity for Capital Metro. She had been laying the groundwork for more than a year for a different approach, and by the time contract negotiations began in earnest, the university was receptive to a new plan. The new contract still provides a dedicated system of UT Shuttle routes, which are paid for by both the university and Capital Metro. However, UT reimburses Capital Metro for rides taken on regular fixed-route buses and on the MetroRail passenger rail system, on a per-ride basis. The goal was to set up an environment where it was cost-beneficial for UT to help Capital Metro make routes more productive. The new contract positions Capital Metro to capture more revenue long-term. Watkins’ tireless work over two years made a new contracting model possible, and both the UT Regents and the Capital Metro board approved the contract.
Watkins takes pride in the fact that she can make a difference in the working environment for the bus operators that serve StarTran’s customers every day. She makes a point to eat lunch in the drivers’ break room whenever she can so that she can hear their concerns and ideas. And, she stays accountable to them. When a legitimate concern or question is raised, she does something about it.
Chief operating officer Elaine Timbes, who has watched Watkins grow personally and professionally at Capital Metro over the past several years, sums it up. “Capital Metro is a better organization and a better place to work because of Dottie and we are fortunate to have her as a member of our team.”
“I appreciate that the work we do, providing public transportation, helps people. Regardless of the reason that someone is riding the bus (or train, or paratransit vehicle), our customers rely on us to get them where they need to go. Ultimately, we are in the service business, and it feels good to know that the work I do every day has helped to make people’s lives better.”
“I love that the people that work in the transit industry are as diverse as the people we serve. The range of diversity present in this industry, from bus operator to CEO, makes the work environment dynamic and interesting. It has been a real treat getting to know many of my coworkers that come from different backgrounds.”