The Trains Interview: Nadine Lee, CEO of Dallas Area Rapid Transit
Nadine Lee assumed her role as President and CEO of Dallas Area Rapid Transit on July 12, 2021. She brings 30 years of transit experience, most recently as Chief of Staff at Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro). Previously, she was Deputy Director of Innovation, where she developed the agency’s âVision 28â plan. [see âLA Metro to prepare for 2028 Olympics with 11 rail projects,â Trains News Wire, Feb. 21, 2019]. She was also a project manager for the Denver Regional Transportation District and holds a degree in Civil Engineering. This interview with Trains has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: What were your first months at DART like?
A: The people have just been very nice, very welcoming. Table [of Directors] has been great holding my hand in all these different welcome meetings that we have with the 13 member cities, getting to know the mayors and city directors, just listening to the issues people are having. So it’s been really exciting to think about how forward looking everyone is.
Q: The pandemic has reduced fare box revenues for most transit systems. How are DART’s finances today?
A: DART is in a very good financial position thanks to some of the relief funds we have received from the federal government. It put us in a position where we could spend money on things that will make a difference to the customer.
Q: What are your top priorities as CEO?
A: The thing I came here for was first and foremost to improve the pilot’s experience. It’s about creating a system designed for people. It should be easy for you to use public transportation. It should be easy for you to figure out how to use public transportation.
We want your trip to be without delays, without obstacles. We want our system to welcome you. It should be safe. You should feel safe. You should have all the information you need either at the station or on your device. If we can really improve customer journeys, we’ll improve traffic.
Q: Dallas, like Los Angeles, is an auto-centric city. How are you going to get people out of their cars and bring them back to DART?
A: The traditional star system that we designed was for people who had the traditional 9 am to 5 pm commute. Now what we are seeing is that the travel demand curve has flattened in the peaks and it has actually rebounded a bit at noon and sometimes in the evening. We may not have the same level of travel demand for the longer trips from the suburbs to downtown, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need the rail system. It just means that we have to supplement it with a lot of great bus services.
Q: You continue to build railroads though. What is the progress of the Silver Line project and the D2 metro?
A: The silver line [see âDallas Area Rapid Transit awards contracts to build Cotton Belt commuter line,â News Wire, Dec. 26, 2018] is a 26 mile corridor from DFW [airport] to Shiloh Road in Plano. It is a very important part of our network. We originally hoped to open in 2022 and are now projecting 2024. It’s not a good story to say we’re late, but the reality is that our build environment is much more difficult. We’re just trying to get rid of all the little things. I am convinced that we will see a lot of things done by January.
In the D2 metro [see âDigest: Dallas council approves light rail subway project,â News Wire, March 25, 2021], we’re getting closer to having agreements on an alignment at the east end. We worked with [Deep Ellum and the city of Dallas] to develop alternative alignments that better suit their needs. We have submitted a file to the FTA with an application for entry into engineering, which will restart our process of obtaining federal funding. [and] also trying to get back into the basic ability program. And so, I hope the FTA will accept the submission.
Q: You were part of LA Metro’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation [OEI]. What innovations would you like to bring to DART?
A: I just had a briefing on our Ideas Studio, which is very similar to some of the work we have done within OEI at Metro. It’s asking people to come up with ideas for solving a number of our problems. There will be an evaluation process and we will respond to the people who provide us with these ideas so that we can close the loop with them. We’re going to be very clear about wanting to prioritize ideas that solve the problems we’re facing right now. We are preparing to launch this probably in the first quarter of next year.
Q: What makes you excited about this job?
A: We’ve come to a point in time, a tipping point for DART, because we’ve spent a lot of time building a lot of the infrastructure on the rail side. We have the longest light rail system in the country. There is just a huge sense of optimism in all the communities. It’s a new era for DART and part of what I’m here to do is bring everyone together and try to achieve something big for our entire system.