GCRTA selects India Birdsong as top choice for next CEO and GM

July 3, 2019
GCRTA’s Board has entered negotiations with Birdsong who has experience managing transit systems in Chicago and Nashville.

India Birdsong has been selected as the top choice to be the next CEO and general manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA). The GCRTA Board of Trustees voted unanimously on July 3 to enter contract negotiations with Birdsong following a nationwide search.

“We interviewed nine excellent candidates for this job over the course of many months,” said Board member Georgine Welo, who served on the search committee. “India stood apart. She’s personable, innovative and she understands public transit at every level, from the bus garage to the executive offices. Cleveland transit riders are about to get a champion and a passionate advocate.”

In Cleveland, Birdsong would oversee 2,300 employees and a $218 million annual budget.

Welo said that Birdsong’s focus and emphasis on serving the people who ride the buses and trains spoke volumes to the Board.

Welo noted that the search committee sought input from the entire community as the process began and incorporated many suggestions into the job description. Besides the RTA Board, Birdsong also met with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and the executive committee of the Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association.

“You can tell immediately that India is a skilled listener,” Welo said. “That’s what we expect in Cleveland. She’ll be listening to bus riders, public transportation advocates, her staffers – just about anyone with an opinion about public transit. Then, she has the ability to take that information and turn it into improvements that make the system run better for everyone.”

Birdsong is currently the chief operating officer of the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority where she is responsible for all of WeGo Public Transit’s bus and rail operations, including maintenance, improvement and supporting the system's 25-year growth plan. She leads more than 550 employees, including union and administrative staffers, two garages and maintenance shops, a commuter rail line and a downtown transfer central hub.

Over the past year, the Nashville system has launched several improvements and initiatives, including updated bus routes with tracking services on a mobile app and tech upgrades such as USB chargers and free Wi-Fi on buses.

Before joining the Nashville system in 2015, Birdsong spent nine years with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) where she held a variety of roles, including senior manager of bus supervision and instruction for the Central Region, leading operations for a CTA Operating Division, bus operator instruction and special events planning. She began her career there as an operations planner.

Birdsong would succeed Joseph A. Calabrese, who stepped down from the CEO role in September after 18 years. Interim CEO Dr. Floun’say R. Caver will return to his role as RTA’s COO/deputy general manager of operations.

“Floun’say agreed to serve as Interim CEO only if he could return to his old job once our search was completed. We can’t thank him enough for stepping in and keeping everything running smoothly during this search,” said RTA Board President Dennis Clough. “We’re fortunate that he and the rest of our experienced leadership team is in place to help India through a successful transition.”

Birdsong earned her bachelor’s degree at Temple University and has a master’s in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has been active in several transit industry organizations, including the American Public Transportation Association, the Transit Cooperative Research Program and the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction 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.