On Friday, May 11, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) will bid a sincere farewell to Chief Operating Officer Donald A. “Dan” Smith who announced his retirement after serving six years at the helm of VTA’s Operations Division. In his place, VTA has appointed Michael A. Hursh, who has served as VTA’s deputy director of operations for Maintenance and Security since 2006.
When Smith came to VTA in June 2006, the agency had implemented strategies to cut costs, streamline operations and improve productivity to weather the economic downturn that hit Silicon Valley particularly hard. Smith took up this strategic vision immediately, overseeing the successful implementation of several major projects and initiatives to enhance service, the customer experience, security and employee work force development.
Among the service enhancements were the 2008 overhaul of VTA’s bus service to improve productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction; implementation of flexible, community-oriented Community Bus Service; and institution of the Light Rail Commuter Express service. The customer experience was further enhanced with the implementation of high capacity 4G Wi-Fi network on VTA's light rail fleet; and the purchase of 90 new environmentally friendly, diesel-electric hybrid buses to replace the older diesel buses, with some customized exclusively for VTA Express Bus and Airport Flyer service. All of these efforts contributed to VTA ridership gains over the course of his tenure. In fiscal year 2006, average weekday boardings for bus and light rail were 126,103. As of March 2012 (fiscal year to date), average weekday boardings are 137,111 — a near 9 percent increase overall.
Smith never lost sight of VTA’s top priority of passenger safety, adopting increased fare inspector and transit patrol presence while augmenting the closed circuit television monitoring capability to keep a watchful eye out on the system at all times.
One of Smith’s legacies, also shared by new COO Michael Hursh, is the Joint Workforce Investment (JWI) initiative. This program was implemented through collaborative efforts with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 265 to support long-term professional development and enhance the health and welfare of front-line employees.
“Just as important as his accomplishments are Dan’s leadership, vision, commitment to customer service and his unfailing decency,” said Michael T. Burns, VTA general manager. “He demonstrated the highest regard for his position and its responsibilities by his conduct, which has always been honorable, ethical and approachable. We wish Dan a well-deserved, happy retirement.”
Smith leaves behind a 40-year long and distinguished career in transportation having worked as deputy superintendent of Rail Lines and as chief of Light Rail Operations at Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) for 25 years in Boston. He also worked at Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia as deputy chief rail officer and as a consultant in the private sector.
“It’s been a great run,” said Smith. “I always say ‘you’re only as good as your last rush-hour,’ and I can only hope that this last six years was as enjoyable for my peers and the customers VTA serves as it was for me.”
On May 12, 2012, VTA will not skip a beat in the Operations Division as Michael A. Hursh takes the reins, becoming the new chief operating officer. Hursh joined VTA in 2006 from San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI), where he began his career there as senior operations manager overseeing track, signal and communications maintenance. He then advanced to deputy general manager of maintenance and finally onto deputy general manager for safety, security and training.
“This is a great time to work in public transit – there is a ‘cool factor’ that is helping to draw a generation of riders who are proactively trying to reduce their carbon footprint and making ecological choices when it comes to commuting,” said Hursh. “I am honored to further my transit career with VTA, and I look forward to being a part of the many new services, projects and innovations we have on the horizon for Santa Clara County residents and commuters.”
During his tenure at VTA, Hursh has achieved industry-leading results in key performance measures such as “Miles Between Major Mechanical Schedule Loss” for bus and light rail revenue vehicles. His passion and utmost regard for safety and security has contributed to new and innovative emergency communications systems and enhanced partnerships with other government agencies like the Transportation Security Administration.
Hursh was also an integral part of VTA’s JWI initiative, recently recognized by United States Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis as an innovative approach to improving employee health, wellness, retention and preparation for career advancement.
Hursh has played a fundamental role in VTA’s ecological programs and purchasing decisions that have helped VTA implement major sustainability initiatives to meet the mission of providing sustainable transportation options that are environmentally responsible and promote the vitality of the region. His leadership has resulted in VTA choosing diesel-electric hybrid buses for fleet replacement, new fareboxes, the installation of over two megawatts of photovoltaic solar generating stations in the VTA bus divisions, retrofitting to modern low consumption LED lighting systems, and the installation of water saving irrigation controllers throughout the divisions.
Hursh has more than 20 years experience in the communications, electronics and transit industry. He is also a veteran with more than 12 years experience in the United States Air Force (USAF) and California Air National Guard.
“Michael Hursh has proven throughout his career that he can lead. I know he will do well in his new role of COO and will continue serving the best interests of VTA’s customers and employees without fail,” said Burns. “We lose a great leader but gain another in return.”