Joe Clark hasn’t wasted any time during his first few official weeks on the job as director of transit services for Twin Transit.
Since assuming the role on May 1, Clark has worked with management to revamp the agency’s budget model, authorized the hiring of at least three new staff members and put the kibosh on plans for a transit center in downtown Centralia that carried an expected price tag of at least $9 million.
Nothing appears to be off the table under Clark, who applied for the job following 18 years as a traveling consultant. Every route traveled by Twin Transit buses will be evaluated, as will the buses themselves. Clark hopes to add to both rosters within the next couple of years, and to launch a mobile app that allows riders to view route schedules while tracking the bus coming to pick them up.
Clark said Tuesday that he knows there’s still work to be done to repair damaged relationships and forge new ones between Twin Transit and other community stakeholders. But if first impressions are any indication, the man some called Joe Bus when he worked for the Centralia-Chehalis Pupil Transportation Co-Op has things rolling in the right direction.
“I know that already in the 15 days I’ve spent sitting in that chair that others have reached out to me and said ‘hey, we know you just got on the job, but we’d like to talk to you about some things.’” Clark said. “We certainly want to take the time this summer to invite stakeholder groups into community engagement sessions to get their ideas about what would work best for them,” Clark said. “We have some deadlines for strategic planning for the state, but that doesn’t mean we can’t modify it as we go along.”
Activity on the property owned by Twin Transit at the intersection of West Maple Street and North Pearl Street in Centralia had ground to a halt long before Clark removed all the money earmarked for the project out of the current budget. There is no timetable for decisions to be made regarding the future location and scope of a transit center, according to Clark, who said Tuesday that there was no clear path for Twin Transit to afford the dozen bus terminals included in the plan as of last year.
Community leaders, such as Chehalis Mayor Dennis Dawes, referred to those designs as a “Taj Mahal” proposal that vastly outpaced the needs of Twin Transit as it currently serves Centralia and Chehalis. Clark said he didn’t see an available resource for Twin Transit to use to pay its match requirement, even if it received the full federal grant funding it had twice applied for and been denied.
Clark said it’s possible the discussion turns away from having a single Twin Transit hub and toward an array of smaller transit stations in key locations throughout the Lewis Public Transit Benefit Area. In the interim, the lot in Centralia will be maintained and available as a free parking lot to anyone and everyone.
“I do think we need to have a discussion about whether that location is the right place for a transit center,” Clark said. “There are a number of moving parts at this juncture that we did not have all the answers to, and there are a lot of questions out there right now where we didn’t want to continue with the project right now without having a better sense of those answers.”
Members of the Twin Transit Board of Directors marveled during a meeting Tuesday morning at how much Clark had been able to work through since taking over for Derrick Wojcik-Damers, who resigned in February following investigations into his conduct as general manager. Operations Manager Aaron Rollins, who submitted one of three complaint letters to the board earlier this year, the trio of which triggered one of the investigations into Wojcik-Damers, said Clark was three employees short of having had a one-on-one meeting with every Twin Transit employee. Rollins also praised Clark’s transparency and collaboration, two areas of concern noted in his letter regarding Wojcik-Damers.
Chad Taylor, who represents Chehalis on the board and on its city council, said the budgetary information provided as part of a slideshow contained more information than he’d ever had explained to him by previous Twin Transit leadership. He and Rollins each used the term “breath of fresh air” to describe the way in which Clark has impacted the agency following nearly a full year of increased scrutiny.
Rollins is the point person for the mobile app, which is being developed by a third party. Twin Transit signed on to beta-test the GPS-based software, which will remain off limits to the public for an indefinite period of time. The app will also allow Twin Transit to track its bus mileage, obtain more detailed ridership information and adjust its route schedules to account for peak travel times.
Clark praised Rollins and Maintenance Manager Steve Wark on Tuesday for their ability to manage through the two-plus months Twin Transit went without a leader and for the visions they have for improving their respective departments. That praise did not go unnoticed by the Board of Directors.
“(Clark’s) organizational and leadership styles are absolutely amazing,” Taylor said. “I think his approach to how we move forward looks like it’s going to be a very in-depth process with public participation included to make sure we head in the right direction and that we build the right things.”