She used to be a METRO RTA driver. Now Dawn Distler is the agency's new Executive Director. She’s returning to northeast Ohio after 15 successful years in transit management in Tennessee, in Nashville and in Knoxville. What brought her back, and what are her plans for METRO RTA’s future?
The position was open because the previous leader of METRO RTA, Richard Enty, was let go earlier this year following investigations into his conduct on the job. Enty's relationship with METRO RTA's Board of Trustees, had long ago deteriorated.
“We’re not going to dwell on the past,” said Distler. But she added that going forward “We have to have a very good relationship with the board; and we have to make sure that the city itself understands we are a great entity.”
In stressing the need to solidify public confidence in METRO RTA Distler talked about why that’s important. “Public Transportation makes the playing field equitable for people. It’s a service for everyone in a community, like water, and street repair, or police and fire protection. If you need to ride the bus, or want to ride the bus, you need to know the bus will be there, where it’s supposed to be and when it’s supposed to be.”
Distler said her experiences running the Knoxville transit system and helping to run Nashville's is going to help. “I’ve worked with some of the best CEOs and managers in the industry.” She said she learned a great deal about best practices and how to build the future; but that she learned something else too. “You can’t do the same things everywhere. You need to see what works in an area. Akron needs to be Akron, it needs to have its own identity.”
The new executive director said public input will be important. “We’re going to go out into the community and talk to the people who ride the bus, who want to ride the bus, who could ride the bus. We want them to tell us what they would like their system to be. And then we’re going to do our best to provide that for them.”
More than Akron and Summit County
There is a regional aspect to what METRO RTA does too, according to Distler. “The team here has kept in touch with the surrounding systems, but what’s most important is that we work together as transit systems to provide a way for people to get around the entire region.” As an example, she said “We’re looking at ways to make the fare structure easier. To make it easy for somebody to jump on with their phone or with a pass and they don’t have to worry about ‘I need a dollar fifty for there, and another dollar for there.'”
Distler said all of the ideas and research into what METRO RTA’s customers and the community want are aimed at one thing. “Our big goal is to continue to raise the bar here every year. To be a little bit better than we were last year. And my ultimate goal is for Akron METRO to be the premier mid-size transit system in the nation.”
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to remove some redundant language and add some missing words.