The RTA’s Driving Force

 The RTA’s Driving Force

Mark Donaghy helps make Dayton’s Regional Transit Authority the strong system that it is.By Jamie Kenny

The Man Behind The Greater Dayton RTA

It is well known around the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority (GDRTA) that its leader and Executive Director Mark Donaghy could never get away with trying to be on the hit television show Undercover Boss. He personally greets every new employee on his or her first day, knows most of the employees by name and can often be found actually driving a Dayton bus.

“When I was a young man, I used to joke with the woman I was dating at the time that I would never follow in my dad’s footsteps and work for a bus company just like he did,” says Donaghy. “That woman is now my wife of 35 years and I’ve been in the bus business practically from the time I made that statement. I’ve either been behind the wheel of a bus or behind the desk, managing buses, for over 38 years!”

Donaghy came to Dayton in 2006 to take over the leadership of the GDRTA. He immediately fell in love with the city and its people. Donaghy says, “The community here is amazing. The residents make you feel like you were born and raised here even when you are a transplant. Dayton is such a warm and welcoming place. We’ve lived in seven different communities across the country and there is no place like Dayton. It is a mid-size city with big city assets.”

Included in those Dayton assets is a strong RTA system. The Greater Dayton RTA provides fixed route services to Miami Valley residents along 29 routes with both traditional motorbus and electric trolleybus operations. Seven of those routes are less than 124 miles of electric fixed guideway infrastructure. The local RTA also provides both ADA-required and non-ADA paratransit services, like door-to-door services for mobility impairment. RTA employs 639 people operating 270 buses that run 21 hours per day, seven days per week. Overseeing an organization of this size and scope and serving this many people is more than a full-time job. It is a labor of love.

Donaghy left a high-level executive position with a corporate bus organization to take his current position with RTA. It was a move that many friends, family and colleagues questioned because it seemed as though he was stepping backward in his career.

“I think the secret to a successful career is to find out what you really love to do and then find a way to make a living at it,” says Donaghy. “I wanted to get back into direct management of a busing system. When the Dayton opportunity came about, it felt like a great fit for me.”

Under Donaghy’s leadership, the organization restored financial stability, enhanced service quality and improved the agency image within the community. Specific accomplishments since 2006 include:

– Restoration of financial stability with a balanced budget and results since 2007 including multiple years with surplus.

– Reorganization of management and administrative structure resulting in savings, which translated to annualized operating expense reductions of $2 million.

– Completion of a comprehensive operational analysis, which streamlined routes, created new connections and reduced overall cost by $4 million annually.

– Implementation of a system-wide objective to reduce casual absenteeism that led to rate reduction from 29 percent in 2007 to 8 percent in 2009.

– Addition of the Greyhound Agent operation at RTA Northwest Transit Center, which resolved lingering problems in downtown Dayton while adding a profit center for the agency.

– Recognition by the Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities in 2008 for its sensitivity training partnership with the Access Center for Independent Living (ACIL) “You Think This is Easy?” course, designed and taught by employees of ACIL to all RTA employees.

– Selection by Metro Magazine as One of Ten Great Transit Systems to Work For in a national competition.

“We’ve been able to accomplish so much in a relatively short time,” says Donaghy. “And I mean ‘we’ because we are a great team. When there is a challenge, our management group looks for solutions and our employees get involved in the process to make the necessary improvements to keep our customers safe, satisfied and on time.”

Donaghy says he is extremely proud of the work that the RTA team has done to improve safety for its employees and their riders. By establishing the new RTA transit center in downtown Dayton in 2009, RTA improved safety and amenities for customers while addressing lingering concerns about crime and loitering in the city’s central core. The Dayton Police Department, working with RTA, is a finalist for an international Problem Oriented Policing award, based upon the transit center project and the resulting 40 percent reduction in crime in the downtown Dayton.

“We serve as a lifeline for people. Literally. Whether it is keeping them safe while they are in our care or giving them the independence they might not have otherwise,” says Donaghy. “For example, our Project Mobility program helps people who are ill make it to their doctor’s appointments and we even take them for chemotherapy and dialysis. If I ever need a reason to remember why I do what I do, I go on those runs and see firsthand how our customers benefit from our services.”

When not driving a bus, you might find Donaghy riding a chopper motorcycle or playing with his grandkids. A self-professed family man, Donaghy says that his hobby for the first 25 years of his adult life was his children—and now his grandchildren. The Donaghys have three adult children and five grandchildren and they are having a blast with this new generation.

Donaghy credits his blessings to never forgetting where he came from. “When I go out and drive for a day or just do some ridealongs, I learn so much about our riders, drivers and our communities. It reminds me of what is most important—those around us.

“I want people to step back and take another look at our local RTA system. It isn’t what you might think. Two-thirds of the people riding our buses are on their way to and from work. We have people from all over our community taking advantages of the services we offer. If you haven’t ridden the bus in a while, give it a try!” says Donaghy.

Who knows? You might even meet Donaghy driving the bus.