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New RTA CEO Introduces Herself To Riders At Tower City

New RTA CEO India Birdsong addressed customer complaints less than 48-hours on the job. [Gabriel Kramer / ideastream]
New RTA CEO India Birdsong addressed customer complaints less than 48-hours on the job.

As riders slid their fare cards and bustled through the turnstiles at Tower City Tuesday morning, a new face in town gave out "Hellos" and "Good mornings."

The new Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority CEO India Birdsong was there to introduce herself to RTA commuters.

RTA  announced earlier this summer that Birdsong would take over as its CEO. Monday was her first day on the job.

Several customers got a few minutes of one-on-one time Tuesday. A few congratulated her and some even exchanged hugs.

"There is something to be said for going out and shaking someone's hand and getting eye contact and finding out, 'What are their thoughts? What do they find to be good about the system and what do we need to improve on?" Birdsong said.

But this morning meet-and-greet was also strategic.

"It gives me first-hand knowledge while I go through and meet with staff to see if that they match up with the customers think," she said. "Then we can come back to the drawing board and get better."

Some riders cut to the chase and voiced their RTA frustrations, including one woman who said she was getting "flack" from RTA employees for her fading paratransit ID card. Birdsong directed her to a nearby staff member who could help.

"For me, I've got to do what I ask people to do," Birdsong said. "If they give me a complaint, I should be able to take care of it myself or either know a person on my staff who can do it immediately. We've got to be able to get results and that's what keeps people coming back."

Birdsong comes to Cleveland after four years as chief operating officer of Nashville's public transit system.

The RTA Board of Directors approved her 5-year, $260,000 per year contract in August.

In an interview with ideastream in July, Birdsong discussed the importance of listening to her customers in Nashville. 

After listening to customers in Cleveland this morning, Birdsong was able to make a short list of things this small sample of riders want to see improved, including faster boarding, improved technology for paying fares, improved accessibility for the disabled and fewer delays.

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.