TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey announces retirement

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TriMet and Board of Directors to launch search for agency’s next leader

TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey

TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey will retire on March 5, 2021, when his multi-year contract expires. A search for Kelsey’s replacement will begin immediately.

“I can’t thank the community, our riders, our employees and the Board of Directors enough for the opportunity to serve TriMet,” said Kelsey. “We have accomplished a lot in a short amount of time and it’s a testament to our amazingly talented employees and community partners. The pandemic and the economy may have put a damper on some of our efforts, but this agency is ready when the time comes because we know how important transit is for our future. Thank you to everyone who has supported my efforts over the past five years.”

“I have been impressed with, and am grateful for, Doug’s vision and determination during his time at TriMet,” said Bruce Warner, President of the TriMet Board of Directors. “On behalf of the Board of Directors, I want to thank Doug for his extremely hard work, including his ability to be flexible and innovative in adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under Doug’s strategic leadership, TriMet has made significant progress on growing transit service, improving the customer experience, decriminalizing fare enforcement, pursuing more equitable security resources, and championing diversity and equity. We are a better agency because of Doug.”

Kelsey first served as TriMet’s Chief Operating Officer, from November 2015 through March 5, 2018. The TriMet Board of Directors then selected Kelsey as General Manager to replace retiring General Manager Neil McFarlane, following an international search and extensive community engagement.

Leading Through Crisis

Kelsey’s departure will come after leading TriMet through its biggest challenges ever—operating transit during a worldwide pandemic, a struggling economy, nightly demonstrations, and wildfires.  Under Kelsey’s leadership, TriMet has taken dramatic steps to help riders and employees stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

  • Preserving service and jobs as much as possible, with service currently running at 90% of pre-pandemic levels;
  • Procuring face coverings and hand sanitizer for employees and riders, with TriMet as one of the first transit agencies in the United States to provide free masks on board for customers;  
  • Authorizing $2.8 million to speed up the remaining installation of safety glass doors next to the operator’s seat on buses.
  • Directing the implementation of the Oregon Health Authority’s physical distancing requirements  on transit vehicles and at TriMet facilities;
  • Disinfecting all transit vehicles nightly as well as providing more consistent cleaning of on-board touchpoints throughout the day; and
  • Encouraging innovation with the addition of fogging machines and electrostatic sprayers for more effective cleaning.

Applying a strategic approach to business

Under Kelsey’s direction, TriMet implemented its first comprehensive strategic business plan. The rolling five-year plan lays the framework for TriMet to achieve overall strategic goals and objectives in response to projected regional population and employment growth, while pursuing continuous improvement. Through this approach, divisions across the agency have aligned priorities to better track progress, plan for future needs, match growth with performance and prioritize all efforts to meet customers’ needs.

Improving TriMet Service and Equity

Kelsey is credited with vastly improving TriMet’s on-time and rail safety performance while steering the agency through the largest bus service expansion and overall rail and bus fleet modernization in TriMet’s history. He also spearheaded important and historic efforts for equity, making transit more accessible, fare evasion penalties less punitive, and setting the agency on a new direction for safety and security that is more welcoming for all.

Among some of the improvements to TriMet’s service, system equity, and access during Kelsey’s tenure:

  • MAX on-time performance increased from 75% in November 2015 to 90% in February 2020 and nearly 91% by December 2020.
  • Bus on-time performance increased from 81% in October 2015 to 87.6% in February 2020 and 93% by December 2020.
  • Rail safety performance improved by 90%.
  • TriMet bus service expanded from September 2018 until the start of the pandemic by more than 8%, increasing bus service hours by nearly 2,000 hours.
  • The average age of the bus fleet reduced from 15 years to more than 8 years.
  • TriMet kicked off a major effort to reimagine and enhance system-wide safety and security and lay a path for other non-police security presence on board in response to the national cry for racial justice in policing.
  • A low-income fare program, established in July 2018 to make TriMet’s Honored Citizen reduced fare available to those living on a low income, providing a 72% annual discount, has served over 30,000 riders.
  • Punitive impacts of fare evasion penalties were reduced, and routine fare checks by police were discontinued to emphasize that fare evasion only is not a crime.
  • TriMet urged lawmakers to pass HB 2017, the Keep Oregon Moving Act, which established the first dedicated funding for transit statewide.
  • The first bus line, the Line 24-Fremont/NW 18, began running across the Fremont Bridge since the bridge opened in 1973.

Growing Mobility

Kelsey’s visionary focus on improving travel by all modes has helped shape TriMet’s urban planning strategies in support of the regions’ transportation and land-use policies. He has also worked closely with regional and transit industry leaders to prioritize transit.

Kelsey’s mobility efforts include:

  • Launching the $175 million Division Transit Project, a new type of high-capacity bus service that will provide faster, more reliable transit between Downtown Portland, East Portland and Downtown Gresham, while also increasing safety for people walking and biking along Division Street. The project made history as Oregon’s largest construction contract awarded to a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise – Raimore Construction.
  • Driving improvements that speed up transit. This includes supporting the City of Portland’s ROSE lanes initiative for dedicated and painted bus lanes to move buses around traffic, consolidating MAX stations in Downtown Portland to move trains more efficiently, upgrading the light rail system on the Steel Bridge and significantly improving the total rail and bus fleet reliability.    
  • Spearheading the $150 million purchase of new type 6 rail cars and the large refurbishment of the existing fleet.  
  • Established TriMet’s first Transit Oriented Development strategy and department to work with partners to encourage higher-density, mixed-use and mixed-income projects within walking distance of transit, with a focus on affordable housing.
  • Developing partnerships with other public sector agencies and private organizations, including Metro, the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Portland Business Alliance and Portland General Electric, as well as others.
  • Participating in organizations focused on advancing Oregon’s reputation in mobility and transit, including serving on the boards of the World Athletics Championships/Oregon 22 and the American Public Transportation Association, as well as being the founding Vice Chair of the National Commuter Rail Coalition and a founding member of the Light Rail benchmarking group for peer transit agencies, in which transit agencies share system data to compare maintenance, overall operations and safety measurements in developing key performance indicators for continuous improvement.

Setting a Route for a Greener Transit Agency

Kelsey has set TriMet on an ambitious path to a greener, carbon-free future. Under his leadership, TriMet has taken the first steps to move away from a diesel bus fleet and test electric bus technology.

Kelsey’s advancement of TriMet’s role in addressing climate change* include:

  • Committing TriMet to convert to a non-diesel bus fleet by 2040, or before, with no future diesel bus purchases after 2025.
  • Launching the agency’s first test of battery-electric buses, powered entirely by wind, as well as pursuing the conversion of diesel buses to all electric, including the nation’s first 60-foot bus conversion.
  • Setting TriMet up for climate actions to convert the electricity-driven MAX light rail system to 100% wind power and convert the diesel bus fleet to renewable diesel when the economy begins to improve following the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Leading TriMet’s first carbon baseline analysis for the agency to use to develop a net-zero carbon strategy and develop a carbon lens for decision-making.

 *Note that many of these efforts have been paused as the agency deals with the ongoing pandemic.

Expanding Diversity and Equity inside TriMet

Kelsey has placed an increased focus on enhancing diversity within TriMet during his tenure. During his time as General Manager, Kelsey increased the diversity of the workforce across the agency to 25% women and 29% minorities. Kelsey’s progress in building diversity in TriMet’s operating departments is noteworthy given most positions there are filled solely by union seniority and given the historical challenge of building gender diversity within maintenance ranks. Kelsey is also credited with diversifying his executive staff making it one of the most diverse in the agency’s history.

Background

Prior to joining TriMet, Kelsey worked at TransLink, the regional transportation authority in the Vancouver, B.C. metro area, where he served in many capacities including Chief Operating Officer. He also led subsidiary British Columbia Rapid Transit Company Ltd. as President and General Manager, was President of subsidiary Coast Mountain Bus Company and served as President and Chief Executive Officer of subsidiary West Coast Express.