2020 40 Under 40: Jesse Rush

Aug. 18, 2020
Jesse Rush, OKC Streetcar Manager, Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA) dba as EMBARK
  • One word to describe yourself: Driven
  • Alma Mater: Oklahoma State University
  • Favorite hobby: Designing random placemaking projects in Oklahoma City.
  • Fun fact about yourself: I like to go country dancing.
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent: World Trade Center PATH Station, Oculus. This station shows the resilience of the United States and I love the clean architectural lines of the Oculus.
  • Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent: Any route on the Chicago “L” system. The simplicity and grit of the “L” train system has always been fascinating to me.

Jesse Rush, OKC Streetcar Manager for the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA), is routinely active in working with emergency responders, updating city ordinances to accommodate the streetcar, networking with the convention and visitors bureau, presenting streetcar information to various boards, councils and stakeholders, coordinating track access training, giving tours of the streetcar maintenance facility and constantly engaged in the service during all hours of operation.

He joined the city of Oklahoma City in 2014 as a project manager in the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) department, where he was the primary owner contact for the design of the Oklahoma City Streetcar (OKC). He also served as the lead for the design of the OKC Streetcar storage and maintenance facility and the vehicle procurement contract. After successfully coordinating the design of the system and maintenance facility, He saw the project through to bidding of the construction, awarding the construction contract and breaking ground.

In 2016, with construction underway, he transitioned to the operations side of the OKC Streetcar to become the city’s first streetcar manager. In this role, he successfully managed the procurement, negotiations and award of the contract for streetcar operations and maintenance services. Under his leadership, the OKC Streetcar opened on time and provided more than 20,000 rides during opening weekend.

His commitment to OKC Streetcar was never more prevalent than in the months and weeks leading up to the launch of service in December of 2018. He worked for weeks preparing for the startup of operations, completing system integrated testing and satisfying state safety oversight requirements, none of which had been applicable in Oklahoma before the streetcar. His work ethic and positive attitude throughout startup attributed to a flawless opening weekend. No one before Rush had managed the startup of a streetcar system in Oklahoma City.

In addition, he led implementation of the city’s first traffic signal priority technology after the start of the streetcar system to improve route times. He pioneered an RFID communication system to allow the pantograph on a streetcar vehicle automatically raise and lower for off wire and on wire situations based on the vehicles GPS location. He also has led efforts to engage businesses along the route, install specialty pavement marking to reduce improperly parked automobiles along the route and establish system data to help in decision making.

Rush is a board member for Oklahoma Transit Association (OTA). He also serves as OKC Streetcar’s designated representative for APTA’’s Streetcar Committee and the Community Streetcar Coalition organization. He serves as the Public Transportation and Parking Department’s liaison to the city’s Youth City Council.

“In 2012, I went to New York City for the first time. While there, my wife and I only used the subway system to travel throughout the city. It helped me understand the benefits of a city that has efficient public transit and how it can help break down socioeconomic barriers. That is when I began to fall in love with the engineering and operations of public transit systems.”

“The most challenging part of my job is encouraging residents of a car-centric city to use public transit. Since 1950, just like all other cities, Oklahoma City has prioritized the automobile. My hope is that by continuing to bring advanced modes of public transportation to Oklahoma City, we can encourage residents to use public transit.”

“Surround yourself with people who share your passion for public transit and can see the global benefits of providing public transit services to the world. As the public transit agency in Oklahoma City, we have to passionately strive to provide a public transit system that allows people of all socioeconomic levels access to transit.”

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Jan. 18, 2013