Cleveland RTA Approves 5-Year Contract With New CEO India Birdsong

A Healthline RTA bus drives down Euclid Avenue in February.
A Healthline RTA bus drives down Euclid Avenue in February. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

India Birdsong will take over as leader of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority on Sep. 16 under a five-year contract unanimously approved by the board Tuesday.

Birdsong, currently the chief operating officer for Nashville’s public transit agency, will receive an annual salary of $260,000 as RTA’s CEO and general manager. She steps into a job vacated by former general manager Joe Calabrese last September.

At Tuesday’s meeting, RTA Board President and Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough said the months-long search sought out a new leader to make a difference at the agency.

“She comes here with great enthusiasm to join the team build the team, change where there are changes needed,” Clough said. “And we are very excited about the fact that she wants to come to Cleveland.”

Clevelanders deserve a “vibrant transit system” that meets their needs and draws in riders, Birdsong said, in a written statement released by RTA Tuesday.

“We’re going to commit every day to transparency and reliability,” she said in the statement. “Communicating how and why we’re spending taxpayer money and making sure people know when their next train or bus will arrive will be a daily priority.”

RTA ridership has declined in the last several years and the agency is in the middle of studying a redesign of the bus system. The agency also released a fare study this month that concluded many riders aren’t taking advantage of weekly and monthly passes.

“I think she brings a bottom-up perspective on how to get things done,” board member Justin Bibb said. “With an extreme focus on focusing on the fundamentals and the basics, which I think our agency needs right now.”

Interim CEO and GM Floun’say Caver will return to his prior job as RTA’s deputy general manager for operations.

Also on Tuesday, former RTA board president George Dixon III was arraigned in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on theft in office charges.

Prosecutors say Dixon failed to pay healthcare premiums for the more than two decades he sat on RTA’s board. He’s expected to plead guilty later and pay $132,000 in restitution, as part of an established agreement with prosecutors.

RTA is seeking to recoup $1.1 million in health benefits and unpaid premiums through the insurance claim process, according to a July news release from the agency.

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