In April, Luther Wynder became executive director of the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA), which provides bus service to seven south metro cities. He’s only the second person in that position and replaced Beverley Miller, who held the job for 25 years.
Wynder hails from Delaware, where he worked for the Delaware Transit Corporation, a public transportation system providing fixed-route busing and paratransit bus and commuter rail service statewide and to Philadelphia. That agency has nearly a thousand employees, including operators, and a budget of $120 million; MVTA, by comparison, has 266 employees and a $30 million budget.
In an interview last week, Wynder talked about his job, his interest in transit and plans for MVTA. The conversation has been edited for clarity.
Q: What was your job in Delaware and what did you do?
A: I was at Delaware Transit for 10 years. At my last position I was chief performance officer, so I oversaw our performance office, our contracted rail operations, our scheduling, our planning, all of our systems as well as our public carrier services, which was our Uber, Lyfts, the limousines and taxis.
Q: What made you apply for this position in Minnesota?
A: After a certain point, transit individuals traditionally have to progress to that next general manager, CEO [or] executive director level. It’s not how it is here, I see. You have a lot of long-standing individuals who have stayed in transit and worked their way up.
Q: Had you ever been to Minnesota?
A: This was my first time here, when I interviewed, and what I say to everyone — I’ve brought a lot of my friends and family over — is Minnesota, Minneapolis is the best-kept, not-kept secret. I live in the suburbs — I live in Eagan. Everyone’s been really nice, hospitable, very welcoming.
Q: What do you bring to the table?
A: Even though I was at Delaware for 10 years, I really spent a lot of time going around the country looking at most of the larger transit agencies, how they did business. So I come with that body of knowledge. I was president of the Conference for Minority Transit Officials for the Delaware chapter and also went to a lot of different conferences. When I came to Minnesota Valley, because I’m a transplant, my eyes are wide open. I’m always out in the field trying to listen, trying to hear from customers, from city officials, from policymakers how we can make it better.
Q: What changes or new directions do you see for MVTA?
A: One of the things I pride myself on [that] I’ve brought here, I call it Partnerships for Success. It’s really important to partner with as many entities as you possibly can to provide services. With the [Route] 495 service that started on Aug. 20, we partnered with some local businesses down in the Shakopee area. Also I’m looking to continue to partner with member services [and] economic development offices to find out how we can add more bus shelters to our particular region. We’re working with Burnsville High School now. We’re looking to do some internships with them and hopefully we can also put a bus shelter and have a route that serves the school. ...
I think we have an important role to be involved in the community. We’re starting a Rider-of-the-Month program ... [and] also we’re going to be doing a stuff-the-bus campaign probably some time in the fall where we’re going to invite the community to put nonperishable food items on the bus.
Q: Why are you interested in transit as a field?
A: I started off as a supervisor in paratransit, so I worked with individuals who had disabilities. I’ve seen firsthand from a number of years doing that how transit truly, truly changes lives. Individuals who couldn’t leave their home were able to go to work, go to school and could be members of the community. That’s what motivates me to go to work every day.
Q: In January, the MVTA suburb-to-suburb route in the west metro got off to a slow start. What’s happening with that route now?
A: That MVTA route — 494 — was discontinued in the beginning of April, end of March. It was a suburb-to-suburb [route] and obviously ridership wasn’t where it needed to be. It’s a concept we’ll continue to go back to and look at. But what we decided to do after that was put together Route 495 and that’s also using the remaining suburb-to-suburb funds and goes from Mall of America to Burnsville Transit to Marschall Road.
Q: If the Orange Line comes to be, how will that affect your operations? What about the Southwest light rail?
A: The Orange Line provides some gap service. We already have great extensive express service during peak times but one of the things that the Orange Line provides is that service midday and on weekends. It gives another layer of transportation services.
I’m not as familiar with [the Southwest light rail]. I have rail operations experience from Delaware but you know at MVTA, I’m a bus guy.