2020 40 under 40: Donald J. Palmer, MBA

Aug. 18, 2020
Donald J. Palmer, MBA, Vice President, Operations, Coast Mountain Bus Company (Operating subsidiary of TransLink)
  • One word to describe yourself: Perseverance
  • Alma Mater: Duquesne University (undergraduate); Point Park University (graduate)
  • Favorite hobby: Reading
  • Fun fact about yourself: I walk approximately 14,000 steps a day at work.
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent: Allegheny Station in Pittsburgh. I was a part of the team that opened that station and it’s right next to the home of my favorite football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent: As a rail operator in Pittsburgh, operating a light-rail vehicle over Allentown Line. I grew up in a neighborhood nearby and it would bring back childhood memories with my grandmother.

Donald J. Palmer, MBA, is the vice president of operations at Coast Mountain Bus Company.

Palmer began his career in transportation as a sergeant with the United States Marine Corps, where he was first introduced to the industry by serving as a motor transport operator and line mechanic. This experience sparked his interest in pursuing a career in public transportation and, ultimately, led him to the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 2003 where he began as a bus and rail operator.

There, he worked his way through the ranks to the position of director of road operations. He was hands-on and responded to several serious road incidents. He also led the management team of road ops on all special events and handled labor relations. He was responsible for the daily service with a peak vehicle demand of 800 buses and 55 light-rail cars.

He then went on to become the chief operating officer for the Capital Area Transit System in Baton Rouge, La. While there, the city experienced the worst flooding in 100 years, and Palmer was tasked with managing the transit system’s response to the disaster, including the rescue of more than 9,000 citizens.

Following his tenure in Baton Rouge, in 2017, Palmer became the vice president of operations at Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC), the operating company responsible for bus operations as part of the TransLink enterprise in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

At CMBC, he currently oversees six operational depots, transit security, transit communications, transit supervisors and service design. Over the past few years at CMBC, transit ridership, especially on the bus system, has grown exponentially in the Metro Vancouver region, defying the North American trend. In 2018, despite growing demand, CMBC achieved its highest on-time performance in its history. This success was due to key operational adjustments made under Palmer’s leadership. Shortly thereafter, on-time performance was one of the key elements that paved the way for TransLink to be recognized as APTA’s 2019 Transit System of the Year.

“On my last day as student bus operator at the Port Authority of Allegheny County, the CEO and COO came to address the graduating class. I recall the CEO explaining that the COO started as a mechanic and praised him for the time he invested in learning the industry. He went on to say that people who work their way up the ranks are invaluable to the organization and himself. Those words resonated with me.”

“I am most proud of the team I led as the chief operating officer in Baton Rouge during one of the worst floods the city has experienced in the past 100 years. The team was accredited for rescuing approximately 9,000 people from dangerous flood waters. Helping people in need, it doesn’t get better than that.”