SACRAMENTO — He has a reputation for streamlining any transit system he’s gotten his hands on and is optimistic about a year turnaround for a local system that’s been struggling for a decade.
Henry Li will officially take the helm of Regional Transit on July 1 while current leader Mike Wiley will become Li’s special assistant until he retires in December.
Li has already helped Regional Transit stave off a downgrade of its financial rating because of bond troubles and is looking forward to implementing a smart card payment system to capture more revenue and make travel easier for customers.
As a daily light rail and bus rider, Vincent Hammond feels he’s seen the downside of what RT has to offer.
“The service isn’t as great as it should be. It’s not a great as it was at one point in time. I don’t know what happened … but it fell off,” he said.
“Buses are running later than usual and there’s more buses that’s out of service than there are in service,” he said.
And that’s not a critique RT’s newest general manager is trying to gloss over.
“We need to improve our service. We need to make our train, our bus, more clean, more safe, more secure and more reliable,” said Li.
Coming to RT three months ago as its assistant general manager of administration overseeing finance, Li beat out 16 other applicants for the top job.
The hope is for local lines to benefit from his 20 years of transit experience in places like Atlanta, San Francisco and China.
Already RT is in the process of hiring 25 new transit agents to combat the fare skipping and security complaints that have threatened to derail the system.
“Staying on the trains to check the fares and just being there will create a sense of the safety, the perception of our customers,” said Li.
Thirteen new cleaning personnel are also in the pipeline to make any ride more enjoyable.
“I think that would be better,” said Sharlicia Craft.
Thousands have balked at plans for rates increases on a $160 million system they see as bloated at the top.
Recently two of nine executive RT positions were eliminated.
Li says there are plans for more cuts but wouldn’t give specifics Thursday.
The biggest thing customers say they want is respect — from a system that cares.
“They seem to forget without the people RT would be nothing, ’cause if there’s nobody paying, you’re just here,” said Hammond.
Regional Transit’s new safety and cleaning hires should all be on the job by July 1.
Already officially selected, Li will be formally appointed to his new position as RT’s general manager and CEO when the system’s board sits down on June 13.