David Green will tell you himself: He’s no Eldridge Coles. His predecessor worked at GRTC Transit System for 47 years, including time as a bus driver, before retiring as its chief executive late last year.
Before being named as Coles’ replacement, Green, an Army reservist who served in Iraq, had been with the company for 14 years, working in procurement and as chief of staff.
Only about a month into the job, Green still has lots of firsts to check off, including a meeting with Mayor Dwight Jones this week. He says he plans to make sure that any discussions about the city’s growth include transportation infrastructure.
“We need to figure out how we might be able to redesign the routes to be able to connect people with jobs and grocery stores and doctors’ appointments,” he says.
Style: What’s your daily interaction with the business end of what GRTC does?
Green: We’re going through a little bit of a culture change here. I’m trying to get with employees at all levels and talk about my vision and my goals and objectives, and what roles they play. I’m spending a lot of time outside the office meeting with elected officials and various localities and finding out where transit fits into their world.
What culture do you want to change?
GRTC has been around for a long time. We have a family atmosphere, and a lot of long-term employees. It was created as a corporation in 1973 — we have a lot of employees who have been here 25 years and they’re used to doing things a certain way. But times have changed. I want people to think about doing things more efficiently, more effectively.
What are some ways that riders will see the result of those changes?
I want to raise the bar for our performance level for all positions. We’re transitioning into an era of accountability. It’s easy to say, “These are the standards,” but if you don’t enforce them they don’t mean a whole lot. We need a little bit more of a culture of discipline. People need to be more accountable for what they do in their specific jobs on a day-to-day basis. As employees become better, it makes their department better, and when we’re better we provide a better service to our customers.
What about systemic problems, where you can’t just demand change?
I need to try to build regional support — that’s one of my priorities for the coming year.
It’s a very individual thing as to each jurisdiction — what it is they want to provide to their citizens and what level of support they want to provide for it. Transportation requires a big infrastructure investment. The U.S. compared to other countries is spending less proportionally than Europe and China. The U.S. amount of investment has declined over the past four decades and that affects us in Richmond, Virginia, too. We’re the capital of the commonwealth of Virginia and we don’t have a bus transfer center, we don’t have light rail.
I was talking to Gov. [Terry] McAuliffe, and he was asking why we don’t have light rail in Richmond. I chuckled to myself, because you can’t do it without regional support. We’re just trying to do bus rapid transit, but the localities have to be on board. They have to want it, and if they don’t support it, it’s nothing more than a great idea. … There doesn’t seem to be much regional support in Richmond. I don’t know why that is.
Is that something you want to advocate for?
Without a doubt. There’s so much change in Richmond. … You can’t advance a region without transportation infrastructure. There are younger people coming into the area all the time, from areas where public transportation is woven into everyday life. People are used to being able to get around without a car, and we don’t have that yet in Richmond. I would love to see a day where we have that, but the localities need to get together and decide what they want the region to be.
Your predecessor came to the role starting from the experience as an operator. It sounds like you’re connecting to people here from a different place.
My predecessor knew the operation backwards, forwards, sideways and upside-down. I’m more procedure-oriented, efficiency-oriented. Eldridge knew everything about GRTC. I know about GRTC, but I also bring experience from outside of the company, things I want to weave into the culture here and take us to the next level.
There’s a lot of talk about food deserts in Richmond and a lack of access to jobs. How is GRTC going to address these issues?
After the opening of our bus transfer center in April [on Ninth Street between Marshall and Leigh streets], that is the primary project that our planning department is going to focus on in the next year. … I have asked the question over the last six months: Why do the routes go where they go and why do they stop where they stop? The answers that I get are, “Well, that’s just how the routes have always run.” But what made sense 40 years ago doesn’t necessarily make sense today. … We have total control within the city of Richmond to make these changes. It used to be any time we wanted to change a route we had to go before City Council. They’ve removed themselves [from that process, after a unanimous vote last September]. If we don’t make use of that, shame on us.