At least three candidates are in the running to lead the Port Authority of Allegheny County, though county leaders say a decision likely is still a ways off.
The finalists are Richard Ruddell, president and executive director of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority in Texas; Frank T. Martin, an executive with a transportation services company in Orlando, Fla.; and Charles Monheim, a transportation consultant working in Hong Kong but formerly with New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to a person with knowledge of the selection process.
At least one candidate was interviewed during a closed-door meeting Wednesday, a Port Authority board member said.
Whoever it is, the victor will wear a heavy crown, responsible for turning around a transit agency troubled by deficits and moving beyond former executive director Steve Bland, who was fired by the board earlier this year after his management attracted the ire of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
Mr. Fitzgerald, who wouldn't confirm the candidates Thursday, said he doesn't expect the Port Authority to make a hire during its scheduled meeting today. Nevertheless, he admits his expectations for the future director-- who will have to wrestle regional expansion, a proposed bus system connecting Oakland and Downtown, and funding shortfalls from Harrisburg all at once -- will require near-superheroic abilities.
"It obviously takes lot of talents and abilities that we're looking for," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "It's a unique position. We want to move transit forward in a big way."
All of the candidates have experience managing a metropolitan transit company, though two are now at consulting firms. And like the Port Authority, they've hit both high and low points.
Take Mr. Ruddell, the Texas transit executive who spent more than a decade heading Fort Worth's bus system. He was brought in from Toledo to heal the ailing system's bottom line, and despite the city's challenging breadth of 800,000 people, colleagues say he did his job.
"He's been challenged with providing bus routes to areas 25 miles from center city that need to continue to show profitability -- and he's been able to do that creatively," said Fort Worth city Councilman Dennis P. Shingleton. "He's got a calm but very effective managerial sense."
That said, there was talk of replacing him this year after Fort Worth City Council said he hadn't moved quickly enough on developing a regional rail line. He's still around, but the council replaced the entire transit authority board.
Then there's Mr. Monheim, who made plenty of friends in New York for his reputation of accessibility and innovation as the city transit authority's chief operating officer. He's credited with the push to move New York away from flimsy magnetic Metrocards to sleek contactless paycards, much like the ConnectCards Pittsburghers can now use on the bus and at light-rail stations -- until he left to accept a job in Hong Kong. The project subsequently collapsed.
No such swan song for Mr. Martin, who appears to have kept a lower profile. Now the senior vice president of transit and rail for Atkins North America, a division of the international engineering firm, he was previously the chief operating officer for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, Calif.
Pittsburgh's annual ridership of 65 million people outnumbers San Jose (42 million) and Fort Worth (8.5 million). New York is higher, with more than 2 billion annual bus and subway riders.
Though she couldn't be reached for comment once the names of the three candidates became public, Port Authority board member Constance Parker said Wednesday she's taking her job as choosing the next executive seriously.
Just don't rush her.
"We want to have somebody in a leadership role as soon as possible," she said. "But we're not there quite yet."
Andrew McGill: email@example.com or 412-264-1497. First Published June 27, 2013 9:30 AM