Let’s Talk: Shawn Donaghy C-Tran CEO

In Let’s Talk, we go in-depth with an executive or owner of a local company or organization.

In this interview, we sat down with Shawn Donaghy, C-TRAN’s new CEO. Donaghy discussed his background, moving to Southwest Washington, bus rapid transit and more.

Q: Because you are new to C-TRAN and this area, can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and experience?

Donaghy: I [have] about eight weeks on the job. I have been doing transportation now for about 20 years. I actually started my career in the airline industry, worked for a few cargo carriers and some passenger airlines in management and operations roles. After September 11th, I decided that I needed a career change and went into intermodal logistics and third-party shipping, (and) port logistics.

You know, I always had an interest in public transportation. It was just a matter of finding the right time to get in. My father and my grandfather were actually transportation executives themselves, so you know it was really a matter of finding the right fit. I was able to do that about ten years ago and was able to get into the public side, which I love to be able to serve the public and have done so in Cincinnati and Fort Worth. This was just a great opportunity to look at and so I’m glad to be in Vancouver, Washington and in Clark County.

Q: Having been in other parts of the country, when you were looking at C-TRAN as a potential opportunity, what were your initial thoughts about coming to this region?

Donaghy: I think an interesting thing about public transportation is it’s a pretty small community. I’ve known Jeff Hamm, the previous [C-TRAN] CEO for a few years, and he spoke so highly of Clark County, the City of Vancouver and the elected officials that represent the area – especially [C-TRAN’s] Board of Directors and [its] employees. For me, it was a matter of – I had a great job, I had a great board and a great boss. I think when you are in that position, it really comes down to opportunities versus jobs. I have been fortunate to have a lot of job offers, but I have had very few opportunity offers. And really, C-TRAN, Clark County and Vancouver and all the member cities that are part of the transportation benefit area – [that] really was an opportunity. When I interviewed with the board of directors, I felt very comfortable that they were motivated to do the right thing for public transportation in the county, and at the same time they asked a lot of hard questions about how we were going to manage the business and what are we going to do about that. And that made me feel very good that the board was engaged, and the employees were amazing… I have known a few of the executive staff and some of the employees for a few years. It really was an opportunity versus a job, and that made the total difference for me.

Q: Obviously you arrive and The Vine is still brand new, so that must have been nice to come in and see. How do you think our bus rapid transit line has been operating so far?

Donaghy: You know bus rapid transit has been successful across the United States and is an equal alternative to certain modes of rail that you would put in. I think bus rapid transit – especially for Clark County – has been successful because we were able to combine a few routes and really provide faster service. You really want that 10 [or] 15 minute service in your mainline corridor (Fourth Plain), which is really what we are looking at now in Highway 99 and Mill Plain; we just had a conversation with the board about that… [The conversation was] very specific to what is our next phase (of bus rapid transit) and we haven’t really made any decisions on what that is, but the landscape really points to Mill Plain. I think we were a little surprised that the ridership on the Highway 99 corridor wasn’t a little higher than what we thought it would be, but the way we were looking at it was that we have three major corridors in Highway 99, Fourth Plain and Mill Plain, and we really need to focus our efforts in providing increased, frequent service in those corridors with connectivity to those three.

The way we’ve seen some successful changes in transit planning across United States [involves] north-south to east-west connectivity to main corridors. So individuals may have to get off and get on a other bus, but we’re saving them ten minutes on their trip and decreasing their ride time by 10, sometimes 15 minutes in some cases – because they don’t need to ride all the way back into town to ride back out to get where they are going.

The Vine has been a very successful route. Fourth plain has a lot of opportunity on it, I think when we talk about Mill Plain we really have to talk about going east of I-205 to try to alleviate some congestion off of SR-14 and really I-5 and I-205. So hopefully we will be able to do that.

Q: You’ve talked about using new technology at C-TRAN. Is something like Wi-Fi on the bus being considered?

Donaghy: It is; we are actually getting ready. We just put an order in for ten buses, and we are going to field test those ten with Wi-Fi. If it [proves] to be successful, as we replace buses we’re going to continue to move them into the fleet. We’ve got some older buses that just don’t have the capability to handle the Wi-Fi, but our new buses that are coming in, some of them can be retrofitted. So if the ten pilot buses [are] a success, we are hopeful that we are going to continue that [trend] on all of our new purchases.

Q: Do you have a timeline for when the Wi-Fi pilot will be rolled out?

Donaghy: It’s probably about 15 months out… We actually have some that are hopefully coming off the line sometime in mid-2018, and we may be able to get those retrofitted, and we are hopeful that we can. We think that would be great to roll out to the customers, and really let them field test it and tell us if they like it or not. I’ve had some varied success with that in other systems, but the technology has changed so much that the biggest issue previously was that you get one person on there and they start streaming Netflix and it shuts the whole Wi-Fi down. But the new modems are so impressive; the new technology and hardware is so impressive that you can set the perimeters to pretty much anything you want, and a lot of the systems that we polled who’ve recently put Wi-Fi in had some really positive results. So we are very hopeful that it will be the same way here.

 To listen to this interview in its entirety, go here.