RTA Board Picks Nashville Transit COO To Lead Organization

RTA train pulling in at Shaker Square
An RTA train pulls in to Shaker Square in June 2019. [Annie Wu / ideastream]

The Greater Cleveland RTA is entering into contract negotiations with India Birdsong to be its new CEO and general manager. The decision came on a unanimous vote from the transit board.

Birdsong is currently the chief operating officer for Nashville's public transit system and previously worked for systems in Chicago and Philadelphia.

"Her experience and the way in which she deals with people, listens to people, and she's an innovator," said Dennis Clough RTA board chairman and mayor of Westlake. "Nashville is one of the premier innovators when it comes to transit at this point in time. She's going to bring that enthusiasm and create that enthusiasm within, not only the agency, but within the public."

The contract negotiations are expected to be smooth and are more of a formality at this point, Clough said.

Inda Birdsong will be the new CEO and general manager of Greater Cleveland RTA. [Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority]

Shortly after she was hired in Nashville, Birdsong was featured in Metro Magazine's Women in Transportation feature, describing her journey to urban planning and transit which lead to graduate schoool and a temporary service planning position with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) , her rise to a permanent employee as an operations planner, and eventually a senior planner. As a senior planner, Birdsong planned routes out of one of CTA’s busiest bus garages, Chicago Avenue, to serve all economic areas of the city, from the most-economically challenged to the highest income downtown.

“This really fascinated me, because I started to notice how transportation connected all walks of life and how important it was for transit advocates to have a seat at the table during the beginning of the city planning process and not the back end,” Birdsong told Metro in 2015.

Birdsong is the right person to guide RTA through rail car replacements, said board member and South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo at the annoucement.

"She worked in Chicago in that area," Welo said. "She wasn't like 'the' person but she has the experience and she's worked right from the garage up, so we're really excited [for] the fact that she really understands transit."

Board member Rev. Charles Lucas intially abstained from the vote, but later changed it to a yes, making it 9-0. After the meeting, Lucas said he wanted another meeting about the search and public comment, but changed his vote because Birdsong had overwhelming support.

"That's another reason why we extended the time period," Clough said. "We tried to give every board member every opportunity to get all their questions answered. And like I said in the beginning, the reason we waited so long to get that job description put together, before we even advertised, we wanted to hear from not only board members, but from the public as to what they were looking for in a new GM."

Interim CEO and GM Floun'say Caver says he was not a candidate for the position.

"I chose to at this time in my career, take the opportunity to continue to be the chief operating officer of this operation," Caver said. "I believe I can still make an impact on the organization with a commitment in the operations area."

Caver says he looks forward to working with Birdsong.

"When you have an experience that comes from Chicago and also from Nashville, if anyone has been to Nashville, a new burgeoning community, a new Southern community that has a lot of good things happening, I'm hoping that some of those experiences from Nashville and Chicago can help us in this region," Caver said.

Clough says they hope to have Birdsong under contract and leading the organization by this fall.


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