Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority General Manager Ted Rieck plans to stick around for one more year, but after that, all bets are off.
“I might just invest in a good rocking chair and take it easy,” Rieck said.
He’s also kicking around the idea of writing the next great American novel or, after a long career in public transportation, trying his hand at another line of work.
Rieck’s got time to figure it out. In announcing his retirement last week, the MTTA board of trustees said Rieck will remain in his current role for a year as the board searches for his successor.
“I think the board and I came to the same conclusion — that this would be a good time to go,” Rieck said. “Like I said, I have options because of this (city) pension program and other things I have going on. It has been a busy four years. I think we have accomplished a lot, and I think it is a good opportunity for me to do something else.”
Rieck said he and the MTTA board are generally happy with the direction the city’s bus system is headed, “but I think at this point I would like to do something different, and I think the board would like to maybe get some new blood or something like that.”
Emily Hall, chairwoman of the MTTA board of trustees, said that when Rieck’s four-year agreement expired in August, all parties involved decided it was the right time to “make a shift in the direction of leadership in the organization.”
“Ted has really helped to lay a solid foundation at Tulsa Transit over the last four years,” Hall said.
Rieck will have plenty to do in his final year with MTTA. The authority is exploring the feasibility of transforming its downtown bus transfer station downtown into a multi-use structure that could include retail, commercial and residential space.
“I hope that we can accomplish that … complete the study and make it a landmark icon downtown,” Rieck said.
Tulsa Transit is also in the middle of expanding parking at its headquarters building at Fifth Street and Rockford Avenue and planning for a world in which transportation systems are evolving rapidly.
“We are trying to be very strategic and forward thinking in our ways to reinvent ourselves, because the market place is changing, and we just can’t wait around,” Rieck said.
Those changes include a 40% to 50% decrease in ridership due to COVID-19 and a shortage of drivers caused by the explosion of driver-driven occupations at businesses like Uber, Grubhub and Amazon.
Tulsa Transit has already decreased its service levels by 14%, Rieck said, and if the low ridership numbers continue, it may be time to consider modifying the business model. One option would be to incorporate microtransit, which Rieck described as using services like Uber and Lyft to fill gaps in bus service.
“Basically, if you take a $10 Uber trip somewhere, we might pay $5 and have the user pay the other five,” Rieck said. “So it would expand the opportunities for people to connect with our bus service.”
Rieck moved to Tulsa to run Tulsa Transit in August 2017. He had previously served on the Johnson County Transportation Council near Kansas City and had also served as CEO of the Indianapolis Transit System.
In his time as MTTA general manager, Rieck has overseen the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit service, the modification of bus routes and the creation of a mobile phone app called the Go Pass. Last year, Tulsa Transit was awarded the Public Transit System of the Year award from the Oklahoma Transit Association.
But Rieck is perhaps most proud of increasing to market rates the salaries of bus drivers, mechanics and senior Tulsa Transit staff.
“(Recently) we secured an 11% raise for bus drivers and mechanics, that’s on top of a 9% raise two years ago,” Rieck said. “Before coming to Tulsa the staff had zero raises for six of 11 years. … So I feel really good about getting everyone to a good level.”
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