Watson Takes Cap Metro Wheel

New CEO's first order of business is to clean up transit agency's image

Linda Watson
Linda Watson (Photo by Lee Nichols)

The Linda Watson era has officially begun. Watson, the CEO of Lynx, the Orlando transportation authority, signed a contract Monday to take the same position with Capital Metro.

"I'm coming from a community that is the number one destination for tourists in the country, and I'm coming to a community that is number one in terms of places to live," said Watson to the Capital Metro board, employees, and public after putting her signature to paper. "Across the country, people talk about the fabulous things you have. ... I want Capital Metro to be on that list, too."

Watson will be paid a base salary of $228,000 in the first year of her five-year contract and eligible to receive annual raises of up to 4%. She also will receive deferred compensation of $25,000 per year (which she cannot start collecting until completion of two years' service), reimbursement for relocation costs up to $65,000, a temporary housing allowance of $3,000 per month for up to six months and possibly a year, and possible annual performance bonuses of up to 12.5% of base salary. If the board fires Watson, she will be entitled to severance pay relative to how many years she has served (up to 12 months' salary if she is terminated in the first year). She begins work Aug. 16.

Before signing, Watson got a taste of the challenge she'll have turning around the transit authority's public image. Jay Wyatt, head of the drivers and mechanics union, was uncharacteristically cordial in welcoming Watson, but activists from the disability community repeated charges that Lynx's paratransit service has not been fully in compliance with Americans With Disabilities Act regulations.

"I hope that she will be willing to work to neutralize ... the current way that Capital Metro has been dealing with the disability community," said Diane Bomar-Aleman, the chair of Cap Metro's Access Advisory Committee and a harsh critic of the agency's paratransit policies. "I also really, really hope that Ms. Watson will try – unlike what she said in the customer forum – to actually use the bus, not just MetroRail, but the bus, so that she can understand that all of us have busy lives and in order to understand and really appreciate what it's like for the rest of us, especially those of us with disabilities who are expected to ride the bus for every one of our daily activities." In a May forum for CEO candidates, Watson admitted she did not regularly use Lynx buses.

"I want to make sure we have a discussion and clear up some of the misconceptions that Orlando is violating ADA," said Watson, adding that the Federal Transit Administration audited Lynx and gave it good marks and that the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged gave Lynx an award for efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

As for riding the bus, "I signed a lease this morning on a place to live, and I'm right on three bus routes," Watson said. "In fact, I did not ask for a car allowance. I told the board I want to use the bus as much as possible, and I plan to do that."

In other actions Monday, the board approved a policy that will ban smoking at MetroRail stations beginning in September and other Capital Metro facilities (park and ride stations and transit centers) starting in January 2011, with a goal of eventually also banning it at all bus stops by 2012, and the board also approved a new two-year contract for University of Texas shuttle service that the agency hopes will lower costs and increase revenue. The revised contract must now be approved by the UT board of regents Aug. 11.

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Linda Watson, Capital Metro

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