If you grew up in Los Angeles in the 70’s and early 80’s, you probably had the benefit of riding on a Rapid Transit District bus, better known as the RTD. You also grew up in an era when it was strongly believed that Los Angeles, for various reasons, could never become a public commuter city like New York. But that was then and this is now. Los Angeles is now one of the leading public transportation cities in the country and over 600,000 people ride and depend on the Metro system every day.
Today, Los Angeles transportation advances through the vision and dreams of iconic mayor, Tom Bradley, who believed and first guided Los Angeles into reimagining the future of L.A. public transportation.
Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins is not new to Metro; for the past three years she has served as CEO of Metrolink and worked for over 10 years as Deputy CEO for Metro. Wiggins also has experience from working for the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the San Bernardino Associated Governments, which oversees transportation planning for San Bernardino County. All are peer agencies to Metro.
Wiggins says she is ready to lead Metro because she is uniquely qualified for the job. By working at various departments and peer agencies for Metro, the Metro CEO has had 365 degrees view of the agency and believes those experiences have her ready to lead the agency into a new era of public transportation.
Like most CEO’s, Stephanie Wiggins’ number one priority is guiding the agency through recovery of the pandemic and the obstacles and challenges the agency and its riders had to endure; 18 months of transportation challenges for both Metro’s 11,000 employees, as well as the hundreds of thousands of riders who depend on the agency to get to and from work, appointments and other destinations throughout the day.
“As we are all trying to recover from the pandemic, it is my job as CED of Metro to make sure that we are providing a quality service and value to the community at a critical time. The pandemic has been more than simply a crisis here at Metro, it has been a huge disruption to the agency and our operation. And as a result, we have been forced to take a look at and rethink everything we do within the agency in order to guide the agency back into full operation,” stated Wiggins.
Wiggins has been preparing her entire life for this moment to lead Metro out of the pandemic and into this next phase of the agency’s history and legacy. Metro has projects spanning the entire county, both large and small, and her appointment as not only the first woman, but the first African American woman to lead the multibillion-dollar agency, is not only historic but is a reflection of just how qualified for the moment she is. With an undergraduate degree from Whittier College and an MBA from the University of Southern California, along with years of work in the trenches of the transportation industry, Stephanie Wiggins has proven herself to be a formidable leader ready to take Metro into to bigger and better heights than even former Mayor Tom Bradley could have ever imagined.
When reflecting on her leadership history, Wiggins can’t help but be proud, both during her first 10 years at Metro, but also her accomplishments as CEO of Metrolink. “At Metrolink, I was proud of how we created a culture and vision of putting our customers first. As a result, we created the highest ridership in Metrolink’s 27-year history,” she said.
Wiggins is also proud of the systems that she and her team were able to implement regarding building the agency’s Climate Action Plan. She says that far too often, climate or any other action plans, are built by hiring a group of outside consultants. But, under Wiggins’ leadership, her team took on the challenge of building the plan in-house. This was significant because by developing the plan in-house, Wiggins was able to inspire and motivate staffers implementing the plan due to their attachment and commitment in developing like-minded goals and strategies from the beginning.
This is a demonstration of the type of leadership Stephanie Wiggins plans on instilling within Metro. She plans to open up small and local business opportunities to Metro in the same fashion she brought to Metrolink. At Metrolink, small and local businesses were able to secure five additional scoring points when competing for contracting and business opportunities in work with and for Metrolink. “I want to make business with Metro more accessible, and create more opportunities,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins is also very proud of her previous work with Metro’s FasTrak express lane system, one of the projects she was responsible for during the early implementation of the program. As a result of her work, both the Harbor (110) and Santa Monica (10) freeways, which pass directly through and connect numerous Los Angeles communities of color, now have the benefit of express travel. She points out that now, over 1.2 million people are signed up and participate in the program with over 77% of those users living in Los Angeles County. Furthermore, Wiggins established a model discount program for lower income residence to have access to FasTrak, which is now the model used throughout the country for setting up express travel programs.
Wiggins believes in equity and inclusion, and part of her leadership will focus on creating models to ensure opportunities for all people. Wiggins says that equity must be “intentional.” She says that far too often, equity has been either a one-off or just happened to happen organically. But within her administration, fairness and equality will be intentional and with purpose. “We will enter every project with an intent to be inclusive and with a goal of equity,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins’ leadership style embraces relationships and is built through trust; trust for the riders as well as the 11,000 employees who will look to her leadership. She says that trust will start with openness and honesty. “Our staff and our riders will and need to hear from me, not only when there is a problem, but need and will hear from me when things are going well.” She also believes in listening and understanding the needs of our people. “Know that I hear them and that they have that kind of access to the CEO.” This transparency is how Wiggins plans to garner and keep the trust of the people under her leadership.
In a time when homelessness and the unhoused are an issue throughout Los Angeles, as well as the nation, Wiggins says that Metro will be authentic and laser-focused on addressing these issues to ensure that every rider has a positive and safe experience. “I see Metro as part of the fabric of the community and the issues of the unhoused are something we all must play a role in addressing.” She embraces the obligation to deal with the unhoused, but believes the issue can be addressed without law enforcement interaction. “As CEO, I intend to lean into this issue, to address these issues and look to expand our partnerships with nonprofits; be more intentional on how we address the unhoused on our system with the intent to provide a safe and secure riding experience no matter what their situation is. We are going to be more engaged than we have been addressing this issue.”
Two other key initiatives Wiggins and Metro are looking to expand on are their women and Girls council, which is internally based to address and focus on services provided by Metro in looking at the issues through a gender-based lens and to create opportunities for females to break into and through an industry that has often been male dominated.
Another key initiative Metro is preparing to launch is the Fareless System Initiative (FSI). As Metro looks to help their riders recover from the pandemic, their board is advancing the pilot program to provide free rides for students K-12. “We know about the digital divide and how difficult remote learning has been. Transportation can be an obstacle, not just to get to school, but to go on field trips, internships, and to simply to move around the county. We are really excited about the Phase 1 of our fareless initiative. As part of this fareless initiative, we are looking to establish a youth council. The youth and next generation are our next wave of customers, and we need to make sure that the voice of the youth is represented when making decision about how we intend to operate going forward,” Wiggins said.
As many people know, the Olympics and Summer Paralympic games will be coming to Los Angeles in 2028, and as the world will be watching, it is Metro and Stephanie Wiggins who are creating a plan to make sure that attendees will have the best transportation experience possible. Wiggins says the Metro Board has laid out some lofty goals in preparing for the Olympic games and while 2028 seems far away, seven years will come quickly and Metro intends to be ready. “We need to complete many of the projects we already have at work by 2028, and the board has asked that even those projects that won’t be completed, will be “shovel ready” and well underway by the time the games arrive in Los Angeles,” she said. These are lofty goals that require both state and federal funding, but Wiggins and her team feel like if the funding is in place, they will be ready to host the world and provide a quality transportation experience throughout Los Angeles for local and international riders alike.
Metro has always been a leader in “green programs.” With factors such as cleaner air to less asthma, transportation is life-changing and big generator of climate change. “When more people ride our system, we have less traffic when they are not in their cars. We also want to have more electric vehicles on the road sooner than later. The state has mandated that we are a zero emissions per net polluter by 2040, but our board has set a goal of achieving this by 2030,” Wiggins said. She says Metro has made great strides in accomplishing this goal; the Metro board just recently approved electrifying the silver line which is the line that travels along the 110 and 10 freeway corridors.
Wiggins is also determined to get complete a delayed Crenshaw line. She wants to ensure everyone that no one is more frustrated about the delays on the completing the Crenshaw than she is. But she says progress is being made. She points out that currently, the contractor’s work is 99% complete, but that they still have to complete the safety inspections before turning the line over to Metro. After that, Metro will begin running trains and working out the details, as well as safety and training trials for train operations. She says, “While I know the delays and inconvenience have been frustrating, Metro will not and cannot sacrifice safety in order to deliver the quality line that the community have been promised and deserve.”
But Wiggins also says that a lot of positives have come out of the Crenshaw line. Over 760 grants have been provided to small and local business along Crenshaw which total over $19 million dollars. The line has also provided over 2,500 new local community residents with good, quality high-paying construction jobs and over 250 of those hires have been women, including Patricia Allen, a local South Los Angeles resident who has been working on the Crenshaw line for some time.
“LA Metro is poised to fulfill its commitment to the residents of this county with the leadership of CEO Stephanie Wiggins. Her professional values and vision provide the people with a champion while she also encourages the best from and for Metro staff,” said Metro board member, Jackie Dupont-Walker.
Stephanie Wiggins has been the CEO of Metro for just over 40 days and no doubt her plate is full. But one thing she wants riders to know, she is ready to lead Metro out of the pandemic and into the future. But, most importantly, she will lead an eye toward building the best transportation bureau in the nation, a bureau that will be inclusive and reflective of the community and the people they serve.