2023 40 Under 40: Oluseyi A. Olugbenle

Aug. 22, 2023
Oluseyi A. Olugbenle, Deputy Director, Department of Public Works and Transportation, Prince George's County, Maryland

One word to describe yourself: Visionary

Alma Mater: University of Maryland College Park (Undergrad and Grad: Go Terps!)

Fast fact about yourself: I am a super proud Nigerian-American. From apple pie to jollof rice, I am a perfect blend of two cultures. I make the best American (spicy) mac and cheese and Nigerian fried rice.

What’s your best experience on transit and what made it memorable?

On my daily commute as an intern, I would take the B24 bus to New Carrollton Metro Station and ride most of the line to my destination. It was a long commute, but every now and then, I was lucky to ride the train of a very special operator, who I never got to meet but would tell extremely funny jokes as he either announced the next station or safety reminders as we exited the train. Despite the crowded and long commute, it made a difference to get a sense of the operator’s personality that lightened a long commute. A very early lesson, for me, on the importance of customer service and the complete rider experience.

Oluseyi Olugbenle is described as a passionate advocate for public service and a rising force for change in the transportation industry at both local and national levels. She possesses an unwavering dedication to improving the quality of life for those in her community by championing access to quality transportation as a fundamental human right.

Olugbenle’s passion for public service began as a volunteer for the Teach For America program, where her efforts were focused on closing the achievement gap in underserved communities in Washington, D.C. This experience provided the perfect transition to her tenure in the private sector as an on-site transportation consultant assisting the same communities.

Olugbenle’s career includes time spent with the Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary’s Office, State Highway Administration and as the deputy director and director of the Office of Planning and Capital Programming (OPP) at the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), where she continued her focus on transportation and the complex issues facing aging infrastructure and the lack of and unsafe transportation access affecting residents statewide. She also became the first Black woman appointed as a director in the MTA's OPP.

At MTA, Olugbenle played a significant role in managing the agencywide $12.6 billion Asset Management Program, leading to a reduction in the State of Good Repair backlog and improving the overall transit system. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Olugbenle demonstrated exceptional leadership as she spearheaded the development of the MTA Strategic Plan - Rebuilding Better, with a strong focus on equity. This plan outlined the agency's response and recovery efforts and prioritized underserved communities that were often overlooked during the crisis.

In her current role with the Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T) in Prince George's County, Md., she took on innovative initiatives, including a Transit Vision Plan and the introduction of the first real-time transit application in the county, to address issues with the county’s increasing number of missed trips. Under her leadership, the county's fixed-route bus system reduced its vacancy rate from 30 percent down to 0 percent and she secured critical paratransit positions to meet the increasing demand for services.

In addition to her professional accomplishments, Olugbenle actively contributes to the transit and transportation industry. She serves as vice president of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials, Maryland Chapter and has also served as the 2nd vice president. She supports the president in overseeing all committees for the chapter including managing membership, emerging leaders, MBE/DBE and communications. She developed new strategic plans to increase membership and better engage existing members.

Beyond her industry involvement, Olugbenle has served the international community through a team tasked with building a pedestrian bridge in Kabere, Rwanda. She is also a trusted Youth Mentoring Leader in her community and, as a WTS International member, has actively mentored female students in transportation-related fields.

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

It all begins with my parents, who emigrated from Nigeria to the United States in the 1970s. I can never forget their sacrifice, arriving on U.S. soil with one suitcase and an American dream. My father was a hard worker who tirelessly worked multiple jobs to provide for his growing family (five daughters). I remember him working at a dry cleaner, delivering newspapers and subsequently completing his Ph.D. in Urban Planning while retaining full-time employment with the D.C. government – which established financial security for my family. My mother was a dedicated teacher for more than 40 years and committed her life to educating and advocating for children. My parents’ endless sacrifices were the early foundation of who I am today, and I walk in both of their footsteps.

My career in public service started as an educator in Teach For America, which led me to pursue my master’s degree in community planning and opened the door to my career in transportation. This role provided an opportunity to work on pivotal transit projects in Washington, D.C., the same city where my parents settled in 1978. It is rewarding to know their early dedication and commitment paved the way for me to pursue my dreams in public service and transportation.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy serving people, specifically Prince Georgians every day. As the second largest county in Maryland, Prince George’s is home to nearly 1 million people, full of diverse, immigrant communities, rich in culture, many who need transit to get to work, school, grocery stores and community centers, among others.

I am truly honored to give back and serve the county that raised me. With the support of the county executive, I am so excited to launch pivotal initiatives such as “PGC Transit Transformation,” as well as “Transit Forward,” which will set a new course for transit in Prince George’s County, Md., over the next five years.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Often times, the transportation needs of our constituents are greater than the resources available to the county. With aging infrastructure, competing priorities and constrained dollars that are common in this industry, I am often faced with the difficult decision of prioritization while still advocating for the needs of those we serve. Interestingly, the wonderful influx of Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, created a unique and awesome challenge in Prince George’s County– requiring recipients like us, to spend grants funds responsibly, expeditiously and without unnecessary delays. From project concept, procurement, design and construction, our office has learned the criticality of project delivery when implementing grant-worthy projects.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

Prior to being deputy director in Prince George’s County, I served as director of the Office of Planning and Programming at MTA. During the pandemic and an influx of social justice protests, I grappled with the disproportionate access and use of transportation in Maryland and how inequities created dire consequences for residents during this health and social crisis. This moment was a turning point in my career and an unforgettable reminder of the criticality and intersectionality of transportation.

I am most proud of the strategic inclusion of equity-based projects at MTA, from the new MTA Strategic Plan: Rebuilding Better, that centered equity as a key pillar to the unprecedented equity metrics in the Capital Program. For the first time, in 2022 MTA factored equity metrics in the prioritization of its $4 Billion Capital Budget. Equity was not just a catchy talking point but was actionably incorporated into the transit planning and investment across the state beginning in Fiscal Year 2023.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

I always emphasize the importance of kindness and service to everyone. A simple “thank you”, “how are you”, or a warm, genuine greeting goes such a long way in building trust with people.

Another value: In a growing world, it takes more than a village to excel. I cherish the trusted relationships I have in my circle: From family, close friends, mentors, champions and sponsors. These are safe places I hold dear and each relationship has contributed to my journey and success today.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.