A Letter to MTC Commissioners and ABAG Executive Board Members

To MTC Commissioners and ABAG Executive Board members:

An important and difficult decision is before you; namely, the selection of the next MTC Executive Director. The Region is currently afflicted with chronic gridlock and a badly disconnected patchwork of trains, buses and boats. To ensure that the best possible candidates are identified and screened for the job, BATWG strongly recommends that this important selection be pursuant to a thorough and professional national search conducted by objective individuals highly experienced in the field. The process should also be informed by input from the MTC Board, ABAG, the local jurisdictions, the transit agencies and other stakeholders.

In an effort to inform the selection process we cite the successful tenure of Paul C. Watt, MTC’s first Executive Director. Here are some of the qualities that helped Mr. Watt to introduce and successfully promote the concept of regionalism to the Greater Bay Area.

Mr. Watt was patient but persistent.

  • He was completely committed to the objective of developing a well-integrated network of non-automotive systems throughout the Region.
  • He had a good sense of humor and often poked fun at himself. Partly for this reason he was well liked by his employees and the transit properties with whom he worked.
  • He was well-organized and kept his priorities straight.
  • He was a leader who took ownership of regional problems when and as necessary.

During the years he was at the helm Mr. Watt gradually gathered support for a regional transportation approach to what were clearly regional problems. And he was making headway. In the mid-1970’s, the Bay Area’s large public transportation agencies attended a meeting in San Francisco ready to talk coordination and cooperation. Included were Caltrans, Muni, BART, AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Samtrans, the VTA, Southern Pacific and Greyhound. The goal of the meeting was to improve the non-automotive modes of travel in order to persuade travelers to do less solo driving. MTC was also invited, but by this time Mr. Watt was gone. His successor arrived 20 minutes late and angrily broke up the meeting, saying that regional coordination was MTC’s responsibility and that MTC would be attending to the matter shortly.

That was 40 years ago.

Today the transit agencies are still under-performing and still insufficiently integrated. And the Bay Area is now more mired in traffic than ever. Hence the importance of the pending decision before you. We hope that the above suggestions are of use to you.

Sincerely yours,

Gerald Cauthen
President, BATWG

This article was featured in Newsletter Issue 6. Click here to go back to the newsletter.