In Memoriam of Charles Carroll Carter: How He Left His Mark on Public Transit

Aug. 17, 2021
The founder of Mass Transit leaves behind a legacy that extends beyond the pages of the magazine.

It was June 1974, when the first issue of an ambitious new magazine—Mass Transit— became a reality and the fulfillment of a dream by its founding Publisher and Editor Charles Carroll Carter, who died at age 92 on May 14, 2021.

As he made clear in his inaugural editorial, Mass Transit was created with one mission: to break new ground as the first international trade magazine with comprehensive editorial coverage of “all forms of public transit in cities” and to provide a much-needed “forum for effective communication between people in every phase of the transportation industry–including local, state and federal government officials, planners and developers, manufacturers and users–the transit riding public.”

This kind of communication, he stressed, was “the source of problem-solving for one of the most critical questions confronting America today: how best to move people around in cities.” Noting that “while there is no shortage of goodwill, ideas, solid interest and needs, there is a shortage of money and time and precious little to date by way of positive results.”

He warned that “America, with its 100 million cars, is on a slow crawl to urban mobility stagnation,” but stressed that while the “dilemma may be a national issue, it is international in scope.”

By focusing on urban transportation worldwide, Carroll clarified that the magazine’s goal was to “inform, report and provoke discussions that assist progress…so that extraordinary talent and technology can be applied to make it possible for people to move about our cities with convenience and comfort and at a minimum cost.”

To aid that objective, he assured readers that “Mass Transit is not an organ or outlet for any special interest group. We have no ax to grind. No lobby to advance…our editorial coverage will be factual, accurate and without favor to anyone. Our only bias is a concern for urban transportation in all its aspects.”

 Insisting on insightful, informed, jargon-free editorial content that any reader could easily understand, Carroll called upon the expertise of leading transportation reporters in newspapers nationwide and internationally to provide articles that accurately reflected the transportation needs and issues in their cities—even if it meant challenging the political status quo.

The magazine’s bold, graphic design was unique at the time for transportation publications and was a visual expression of what he saw as the fast-moving possibilities for the future of public transportation. That belief was encouraged by the passage of the 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Act providing $375 million for large-scale public or private rail projects in the form of matching funds to cities and states. The act also established the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) and provided grants of up to 50 percent for the costs of transit improvements.

Further support came in 1970, when President Richard Nixon signed an act providing an additional $12 billion in matching funds to transit projects, followed by President Gerald Ford signing a bill in 1974 for an additional $11.8 billion.

This initial boost in federal funding would help projects such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system open in 1972, as well as the Washington, D.C., Metro (WMATA) in 1976, and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit (MARTA) system in 1979.

Given his experience as the deputy administrator of UMTA in 1968, and later as special assistant to the Secretary of Transportation in the Nixon and Ford administrations, Carroll was uniquely qualified when it came to realizing just what the possibilities—and complexities—were that lay ahead.

He recognized the federal government’s role would only increase as more transit systems became publicly financed and that would require ongoing, insightful editorial coverage. The magazine's office was strategically located in the National Press Building, two blocks from the White House and close to federal transportation agencies and Capitol Hill.

It also was well positioned to report on the developing Washington Metro system. In fact, Carroll’s lifelong passion for trains led him to study the railroad rights-of-way in the Washington, D.C., area long before the Metro system became a reality. Some of his maps were even used in the original studies for what would become the Metro that opened two years after his launching the magazine in 1974.

As the magazine became more established, his next step was to expand by adding the first-ever international mass transit conferences that then grew into international industry trade shows in Washington, D.C., in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1982.

He also founded the International Mass Transit Association that advocated for more effective funding of global transportation projects by the World Bank. When he retired in 1988, he sold the magazine but remained active in supporting his vision of the future of public transportation. For the last 19 years, however, Carroll also used his considerable energy and positive nature to manage the challenges of Parkinson’s Disease.

But this story would not be complete without acknowledging the extraordinary qualities of the person behind these accomplishments. Carroll was a true people person. He had an innate ability to pay the highest compliment of all to anyone he was engaged with and able to focus his full attention on each person no matter their position in life so they came away feeling important.

Placing a high value on personal relationships resulted in Mass Transit being a true family project that included his wife, Rosemary, who was a unique personal and professional partner. As the parents of six children, they embraced the magazine staff as extended family, which would have long-lasting positive effects on the mainly young, female editorial and advertising staff.

Carroll was ahead of his time once again when it came to being flexible about maternity leave and schedules that accommodated working mothers trying to juggle a career and families. These were unheard of policies at the time—four months paid leave and returning on a four-day work week before technology made that easier.

Indeed, due to this innovative leadership, Carroll and Assistant Publisher Susan Duke were featured in the February 1986, issue of Nation’s Business magazine as they were planning ahead for how she would manage her magazine responsibilities and her future family.

Not surprisingly, for all these reasons and more, Carroll inspired a deep admiration and special connection that makes me always grateful to have answered the Washington Post ad 47 years ago about needing an editorial staff for a new magazine called Mass Transit.


While this article was written by Nanette Wiese, who served as managing editor for 11 years (1974-85), it reflects contributions from Susan Duke, who was assistant publisher from 1975 to 1988 and Sheila McCarthy Holley, who was part of the original editorial staff from 1974-78.

About the Author

Nanette Wiese

Nanette Wiese served as Mass Transit's first managing editor from 1974-1985.