Former Southeast Michigan RTA leader lands new transit job in Denver

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Michael Ford was CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority for five-plus years before stepping down to take a new job as CEO of the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority.(

DENVER, CO – The Denver Regional Transportation District has hired Michael Ford, a former Ann Arbor and southeast Michigan transit leader, to be its new chief operating officer.

Ford is stepping into a new position to oversee all of the agency’s rail and bus operations in the growing Denver metro region, according to a Feb. 1 press release from the agency.

Ford was hired as CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority in 2009 and served as the agency’s leader for five years as it expanded and became the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

The AAATA won voter support in 2014 for a five-year tax to restructure and grow services in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas before Ford left shortly thereafter to become CEO of the new Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority. The RTA put together a detailed plan for expanding rail and bus services in the metro Detroit region, but voters rejected a tax to fund it in November 2016.

The RTA board later terminated Ford’s contract with the agency in March 2017 after his travel expenses came under scrutiny, as they also did when he was the AAATA’s CEO.

Earlier this month, Crain’s Detroit published a guest column from Ford in which he reflected on the 2016 defeat of the regional tax. It identified Ford as a transit consultant for municipalities in the U.S. and Canada.

“Washtenaw and Wayne counties voted for the transit proposal, while Macomb and Oakland counties voted against it,” he wrote. “Instead of moving swiftly to try again, our leaders who oppose mass transit tell us to be patient and wait for a future perfect transit plan they can support. And so nothing changes. We live in a region with enormous transit gaps and limited transit service during non-peak periods.”

There’s discussion now of whether to put another regional transit proposal on the ballot in southeast Michigan this November.

Ford has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and philosophy from Pacific University and an MBA from City University of Seattle.

He worked for Greyhound Lines Inc. as a manager from 1983 to 1991, then director of operations and maintenance for Community Transit in Everett, Wash., from 1991 to 2001.

He later served as manager of the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District in Portland, Ore., from 2002 to 2007, and COO and assistant general manager of the San Joaquin Regional Transit District in Stockton, Calif., from 2007 to 2008.

He was running his own consulting firm in the state of Washington before he was hired as Ann Arbor’s transit CEO in 2009.

The Denver RTD provides public transportation in eight counties, including all of Boulder, Broomfield, Denver and Jefferson counties, parts of Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, and a small portion of Weld County. According to the agency’s website, it is dedicated to serving the public and providing for the transportation needs of more than 2.8 million people located within 2,400 square miles, with services including bus, rail, shuttles, paratransit services, demand-responsive services, special event services, vanpools and more.

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