Nathaniel Ford selected as new JTA executive director
Nathaniel Ford began his transit career as a train conductor in New York City before speeding through the ranks to lead two of the nation’s busiest transportation agencies in Atlanta and San Francisco.
His latest stop will be in Jacksonville to lead the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.
JTA board of directors unanimously, 7-0, selected Ford to succeed Michael Blaylock as executive director and CEO and enter contract negotiations with board Chair Ed Burr. Once finalized, that employment contract will return to the board for approval.
Ford, 51, was one of three finalists for the position that drew more than 100 candidates in a national search that was initiated following Blaylock’s retirement announcement in March. The board amended Blaylock’s contract during the March special meeting to allow Blaylock to retire effective Sept. 30, or until a successor was named, instead of 2014.
During the more than three-hour special meeting Wednesday, the board interviewed Ford, Steve Bland, Port Authority of Alleghany County in Pittsburgh; and Frank Martin, Atkins North America senior vice president.
During his board presentation, Ford described his experiences of working his way to the top through the industry and his varied work in the Northeast, West Coast and South. He also discussed methods of using technology to decrease congestion in San Francisco by way of parking applications, drive-cameras in buses as a way to improve driving performance and revamping route systems and policies to save money that built ridership and customer service levels.
“I believe I have the tools to help you get to your goals,” he told the board.
Asked during the question-and-answer segment with board members why he wanted the position given JTA’s financial constraints, Ford said he has “made a career out of taking on challenges.”
He served as general manager and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority in Atlanta from 2000-05 and as the executive director and CEO of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in San Francisco from 2006-11.
For the past year, he has been the managing principal of The Ford Transportation Group LLC, a transportation consulting firm, in Atlanta.
Following his selection, Ford said he understood the financial constraints on the authority, especially with the 2016 sunset of the gas tax as a funding source. He said he would first look within the authority to find savings.
“We’re always pressed for resources,” he said, later adding: “I don’t believe in managing with my hand out, so we’ll take a good look at what we have at our own disposal to get our financial house in order.”
He said he would work with the board, mayor and other officials to determine other revenues.
Ford and Martin were the final two candidates before the board following its cut-down vote, with the seven-member board selecting two of the three on a paper ballot. There were five votes for Ford, five for Martin and three for Bland. Board member Steve Diebenow only chose Ford.
Burr and board member Scott McCaleb did not vote for Ford in their initial votes.
Burr said afterward he was unsure of what the board’s decision would be heading into the special meeting, but said he liked all three candidates and each had their own strengths and weaknesses. He said he had no preference of predictions heading in.
“Nathaniel Ford will be a great leader for the JTA,” Burr said. “Nat’s a leader.”