Debra Johnson has been named as the next GM/CEO of Denver RTD

Aug. 26, 2020
Johnson brings 25 years of transit leadership experience to the position and will be the first woman to hold the position at the agency.

In the end, the decision wasn’t if the Regional Transportation District (RTD) of Denver was going to name a woman to lead the agency for the first time in its nearly half-century history, but which woman. On Aug. 25, the RTD Board of Directors selected Long Beach Transit’s Debra Johnson to be the next general manager and CEO.  

Johnson’s selection ends a long process for the agency that began with in November 2019 with news that Dave Genova would be retiring from the agency in January. Paul Ballard was selected as the interim general manager in February and a nationwide search, supported by Krauthamer & Associates, began in May and drew 58 applicants. Six were interviewed by the RTD Board Executive Search Committee and the three finalists – all woman – were named earlier this month.

“We are leading through an unprecedented time of transition for RTD, in weathering a global pandemic, technological changes and new considerations that guide the service we provide,” said Board Chair Angie Rivera-Malpiede. “At the heart of Debra’s diverse, impressive background, creativity and best practices, she is guided by people: our dedicated team of employees and the public we all serve. We are excited for the people of the Denver region to meet her, and we look forward to working with Debra as she continues to elevate and position RTD as the world-class agency we are all so proud to be a part of.”

Johnson began her career in public outreach and community relations before moving to communications and then to executive leadership in the transit industry. She has held executive positions at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. She currently serves as the deputy CEO at Long Beach Transit in California.

RTD says Johnson brings more than 25 years of diversified, progressively responsible experience leading and managing business processes for public transit agencies. In her current role with Long Beach Transit, she oversees an operating and capital budget of $130 million, as well as the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Thank you to the RTD Board of Directors for selecting me as the next general manager/CEO,” Johnson said. “I am extremely humbled and equally excited about this opportunity. I look forward to working with the dynamic men and women who have made RTD such a progressive transportation agency. Moreover, I am elated to become an integral part of the community as I work with all stakeholders to improve service quality and enhance RTD’s image.”

The RTD Board and Johnson will begin negotiating the terms of her employment agreement, a process expected to be complete no later than the end of October. RTD will announce the date Johnson begins her new role when it has been determined.

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.