By: Kidada Malloy, UCLA MURP
On Friday, February 22nd, generous corporate sponsorships sent students from USC and UCLA to the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) luncheon welcoming the new Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink) Chief Executive Officer, Stephanie Wiggins. This notable achievement is the first time the Metrolink Board of Directors has hired a woman and an African American to lead the agency. In this role, Wiggins will oversee Metrolink’s inter-regional commuter rail network which spans more than 500 miles of tracks across six counties – Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, and (portions of) San Diego. During Friday’s luncheon, Wiggins shareds her experience working across transit agencies, her vision for Metrolink, and advice to the future transportation industry leaders.
USC Students "Fighting On" with Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins (fourth from right)
Prior to her career in transportation, Wiggins completed her BA at Whittier College and MBA at USC (fight on,Trojans!), Since graduation, Wiggins has logged more than 24 years of experience in the transportation industry, now bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to her new position. After graduating from Whittier College, she worked as an Administrative Analyst at the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA), followed by high-level positions at the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC), and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority (LA Metro). In her new role at Metrolink, Wiggins is looking forward to implementing innovative strategies that enhance the customer experience for riders while also integrating rail into the larger transit ecosystem of Southern California.
Danielle Dirksen, a USC Junior completing her BS in Urban Studies and Planning asked Wiggins, “Within your lifetime, was there a piece of advice that you've received that has changed the way you approach your job?" She shared that a mentor once told her “…an email sent is not an email received." She further expanded that this advice was transformative because it emphasized the power of communication. “Sometimes technological tools make our lives easier, but what we end up forsaking are personal connections in exchange for ease,” she added. This advice was a reminder for her and all of us to not only rely on email communication with a colleague or stakeholder. Instead of leading with an email, she recommends making a personal connection first by picking up the phone or meeting in person, and then afterwards following up with an email to confirm the communication.
Wiggins first task as Metrolink CEO involved crafting a vision statement founded on creating “a rail network that exceeds expectations and enhances the customer service experience. A vision founded on providing outstanding customer experiences is key to creating positive memories that encourage riders to continue using the Metrolink service,” she shared.
In her effort to put customers first, Wiggins aims to double ridership within the next five years. To achieve this goal, she highlighted three areas of focus - emphasizing safety and security improvements, establishing an integrated transit network, and implementing modern business practices. Her goal by employing these practices is to allow Metrolink to create value and deliver an outstanding customer experience.
I was particularly interested in security and asked Ms. Wiggins what she found to be the biggest barrier to creating a system that is safe, secure, and comfortable for riders? She thoughtfully responded that “studies have found that when the needs of women are taken into consideration when designing public spaces and public transportation spaces, these systems end up being safer for everyone.” She added that “both at Metro and Metrolink there are efforts underway to engage women riders and analyze how to make the system safer. For example,” she noted, “at Metrolink, a new text feature has been implemented which allows riders another way to report issues of concern which enhances safety and comfortability. However, technology is only part of the answer. Law enforcement presence is another part of the answer, but both of these solutions are not always affordable or feasible to implement and cannot be the only solutions utilized. I believe that there is something to the research that if women feel comfortable, the system will be safer. In the transportation industry, we can take some cues from women to consciously design our systems in order to make them safer,” she added.
Beyond discussing a vision for enhancing Metrolink service, Wiggins acknowledged her achievement as the first woman and African American CEO given the additional barriers faced by women and people of color working in a male dominated industry. She stressed the benefit of diversity and inclusion in the work place, project and program development, and operations, proclaiming that “Diversity is who has a seat at the table, and inclusion is about who has a voice. And your voice does matter regardless of your gender or race.” In her new role, Wiggins is dedicated to cultivating diverse talent and leaving the door open to empower future leaders to succeed in the transportation industry. Congratulations to Stephanie Wiggins, and we wish you success as you build and strengthen the Metrolink rail network.
About the Author:
Kidada Malloy is currently completing a Master's Degree in Urban and Regional Planning at UCLA with an emphasis on transportation policy and planning. Prior to attending UCLA, she gained experience working for local, state, and federal elected officials and is interested in the intersections between policymakers' efforts and planners' priorities to advance transportation goals. After completing her degree, Malloy plans to work for a city transit agency as an advocate for improved mobility access.