Metro light rail CEO Rick Simonetta has a pretty impressive resume. His 35 years in the public transportation industry has come with many rewards and accolades including being voted “one of the 50 most influential people in public transportation of the past century.” It sounds like changes to that resume will be in order in the very near future. According to a recent AZ Republic article by Sean Holstege, Mr. Simonetta will be stepping down from his position at Metro to become an advisor in the short term. No real mention of long term commitments were mentioned, but to me, the advisory position sounds like a pretty sweet gig for Mr. Simonetta. The politics of light rail and working with agencies, cities, board members, and to an extent, the public is probably a very ‘interesting’ part of Rick’s world. Without a doubt, he knows the system and has the experience and expertise to be involved with the future expansion plans for the valley’s light rail system.
Over the past few years, I have had several opportunities to meet Mr. Simonetta at Metro meetings, city council meetings and light rail related events. I have been pretty impressed with his knowledge of the system and all involved. I guess “impressed” isn’t the best choice of words as it would certainly be expected for a CEO to be knowledgeable of the system. Having the initial 20-mile stretch open on time without a whole bunch of major problems is probably where most had set the bar and the bar was in fact cleared. Other than the “torch issue” it has been pretty smooth sailing as far as much of the public perception is concerned. Yeah, a lot of people still think of light rail as a “boondoggle”, but in reality, that isn’t the fault of a CEO hired, and paid well, to do a job. Ridership numbers are currently well above initial estimates and the economic development along the line has been impressive.
Many of the businesses along the line that struggled during construction are now reaping rewards, and the future CEO will benefit from learning about the success in coping with the challenges of this initial phase of construction. Rick was quoted by the paper as saying, our system is “the most successful light rail start-up in U.S. transit history.” If that is in fact true, it will be interesting to see what he plans for an encore.
Best of luck to Metro in their national search to find a replacement.