Johnson Leads Denver RTD

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
A 25-year transit industry veteran, Debra A. Johnson is the first female CEO and GM in Denver Regional Transportation District's 51-year history.

A 25-year transit industry veteran, Debra A. Johnson is the first female CEO and GM in Denver Regional Transportation District's 51-year history.

Debra A. Johnson officially began work this week as CEO and General Manager of Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD). She is the first woman in the agency’s 51-year history to take on the role—responsible for budget, capital projects and service delivery of commuter rail, light rail and bus options across the Denver metro region.

A 25-year transit industry veteran, Johnson served most recently as Deputy CEO of Southern California’s Long Beach Transit. She succeeds Paul Ballard, who led RTD on an interim basis since February, overseeing the agency throughout the pandemic and during the September opening of RTD’s newest commuter rail line. (David Genova, who retired earlier this year after leading RTD since 2015, is now Director of Transit Advisory Services at LTK Engineering Services.)

During an agency-wide address, Johnson told employees that they should expect to see her across RTD’s system as she embarks on a “learning phase,” and that she will be listening carefully to what they have to say.

“Collectively, we can ensure that we come out stronger than we are now, in the sense that we have been faced with some unprecedented challenges, some untraveled terrain,” Johnson said, speaking to the agency’s current realities. “But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, in the sense that we can leverage the experiences that we have garnered thus far and move forward and present RTD 2.0.”

“We really needed to get a leader who would be innovative, creative, think outside of the box, partner and have lots and lots of transit experience,” Board of Directors Chair Angie Rivera-Malpiede noted during the same address, “and we found that in Ms. Johnson.” The Board selected Johnson in August.

Johnson has held executive positions at Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. She also serves on the American Public Transportation Association Emerging Leaders Committee (2019-2021) and is a board member of the American Public Transportation Foundation.

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