Regional Transit head Mike Wiley to step down

Sacramento Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley, August, 2015, at opening of Blue Line extension to Cosumnes River College
Sacramento Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley, August, 2015, at opening of Blue Line extension to Cosumnes River College

Sacramento Regional Transit, the area’s main bus and rail operator, is looking for a new chief executive.

General Manager Mike Wiley, a 37-year RT employee well-regarded for his transit acumen, announced Friday that he intends to step down from the agency’s top post next year, but likely will remain in some capacity to ease the transition to his successor.

“The timing is very ideal for RT to identify the next person ... to take RT to that next level,” said Wiley, 62.

Transit board chair Jay Schenirer said RT will begin a national search in the next two months, and have the new person on board in six months.

“We are trying to do organizational change,” Schenirer said. “With the arena coming on and the economy improving, I think we are set up for some exciting times in Sacramento. We want someone collaborative, someone with a vision.”

Schenirer lauded Wiley, calling him a man wholly dedicated to RT and to the concept of transit. “He’s done a fabulous job.”

The transition to new leadership comes at a challenging time for the agency, but also one with huge potential for growth, transit observers say. RT provides bus and light-rail service to most of Sacramento County.

The agency has begun to regain its footing after suffering deep service cuts during the recession. RT recently added a light-rail extension to Cosumnes River College, and is expected to start work soon on $6 million in upgrades to aging light-rail stations.

But RT also has been the target of criticism. A group of downtown business leaders, including representatives of the Sacramento Kings and Republic FC soccer team, publicly called on the agency this year to improve service, security and system cleanliness before the Golden 1 Center sports and entertainment arena opens in October 2016.

The groups’ members said they are counting on light rail to bring thousands of arena eventgoers downtown, and said they fear that those riders, many of them likely to be first-timers on the system, could be turned off and not ride again if the service is not clean, safe and convenient.

Several RT agency board members, notably Schenirer, Phil Serna and Steve Hansen, have been pushing Wiley’s staff to pursue upgrades quickly as well. Those board members helped form an ad hoc committee that is working with business leaders on ways to improve service in the next year.

The agency still struggles with tight financing, which makes such upgrades more difficult to achieve. Moody’s Investors Service downgraded its rating of RT bonds earlier this month, and the agency board this week agreed to a new arrangement for a revolving line of credit with the U.S. Bank National Association under less favorable terms. The transit agency is funded partially on rider fares, but mainly on local, state and federal funds.

Wiley has held the top post since 2007. This year, he hired an outside consultant to look for ways the agency can increase revenues and cut expenses. That consultant, national transit expert Doug Carter, came up with suggestions the agency has begun to implement.

Carter also noted that “the staff appears tired, battered and somewhat overextended” from struggling amid criticism to improve service despite reduced budgets.

Schenirer said Friday that Wiley and his staff have responded professionally to the intense push to modernize quickly.

“Over the past year or two, we have really started to look at what the agency needs to look like for the next decade,” Schenirer said. “Rather than be defensive, Mike has embraced that change. That is commendable.”

Wiley said the recent pressure to evolve did not play a role in his decision to step down.

“I welcome that challenge,” he said. “I think it is great that folks in the community are really taking a strong interest in the services that we provide, the quality of those services and looking for us to grow.”

Wiley, credited with an encyclopedic mind on transit issues, joined the agency in the 1970s, and served in numerous roles before being promoted to general manager. A graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Wiley oversaw a series of light-rail expansions, including the Green Line opening in 2012 and the Blue Line extension to Cosumnes River College last month.

“I love RT, I love what I do, I love the people here,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of positive things happening.”

Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, thanked Wiley for “his clear vision” in guiding the agency through the recession.

Serna, a county supervisor and RT board member, commended Wiley as well.

“His career at RT has been a labor of love,” Serna said. “He takes the challenges and opportunities on his watch very personally; he’s been a great steward of the system.”

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak