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MTA chief leaving Maryland for job in Vancouver

The head of the Maryland Transit Administration is leaving the agency next month for the top job at the regional transit authority in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Kevin B. Quinn Jr., who oversaw the 2017 BaltimoreLink bus system overhaul, the troubled Purple Line light rail project in the D.C. suburbs and the debut of the MTA’s CharmPass mobile ticketing app, will lead TransLink, formally known as the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority.

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File photo: The launch of the $135 million BaltimoreLink bus route overhaul had gone "pretty smoothly," Kevin B. Quinn Jr., then acting CEO of the Maryland Transit Administration, told business leaders at a Greater Baltimore Committee breakfast in 2017. (Colin Campbell/The Baltimore Sun)
File photo: The launch of the $135 million BaltimoreLink bus route overhaul had gone "pretty smoothly," Kevin B. Quinn Jr., then acting CEO of the Maryland Transit Administration, told business leaders at a Greater Baltimore Committee breakfast in 2017. (Colin Campbell/The Baltimore Sun)

Quinn’s last day at the MTA will be June 4. The Silver Spring native, who graduated from Goucher College and the Johns Hopkins University, starts July 19 as CEO of TransLink, Vancouver officials announced.

“My family and I have been looking to travel and live somewhere new for quite some time,” Quinn said in an interview Wednesday. “TransLink is an incredible organization, and it’s such an honor to be given the opportunity to go lead them. They’ve also very similarly used data the way we have to improve performance and improve the relationship with their riders.”

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Holly Arnold, the MTA’s deputy administrator and chief planning, programming, and engineering officer, will succeed Quinn as the agency’s acting chief.

While the Hogan Administration has faced persistent criticism for funding highway projects at the expense of transit, Quinn has enjoyed relative popularity among MTA employees and transit advocates for his accessibility and efforts to improve the system for riders.

As administrator, Quinn said, his guiding philosophy was that improving the agency’s treatment of its employees would, in turn, improve the employees’ treatment of the transit system’s riders.

Quinn, 41, took over the MTA, the nation’s 13th largest transit agency, just before the launch of BaltimoreLink, a rerouting and rebranding of the state-run bus system, which he’d helped orchestrate as the agency’s planning director. The initiative prioritized higher frequency routes but earned mixed reviews overall.

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As CEO of the MTA, which operates the Baltimore region’s buses, metro, light rail, commuter buses, mobility paratransit and MARC trains, Quinn earned praise from employees for being approachable, mourning with them after a driver was killed and staving off any layoffs during the pandemic.

But he faced criticism for a sudden, monthlong shutdown of the Baltimore Metro in 2018 for emergency track repairs — especially after an inspection report revealed the MTA had known the tracks violated safety standards and emails showed the union had been raising concerns.

His departure will be a loss for the agency, said Mike McMillan, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300, which represents nearly 2,500 MTA bus, train and light rail operators.

“We’ve developed a good working relationship,” McMillan said in an interview. “I would not have wanted to go through the pandemic with anyone else but Kevin. … Everything he did protected our workers and kept them employed.”

No administrator has been more accessible in McMillan’s 26 years at the MTA, he said. While the union’s and management’s priorities were often at odds, McMillan said, “he never took anything personally with the union and the decisions we had to make, fighting for our members.”

Quinn spoke at an October vigil for slain MTA driver Marcus Parks, telling his family and co-workers: “You’re all a part of my family. We stand with you, and we support you.”

“You could see he shared the pain along with his employees, our members,” McMillan said. “He showed he cared.”

Brian O’Malley, president of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a transit advocacy group, said Quinn cut through state bureaucracy early in his tenure to get working GPS installed on all buses. Quinn also was behind the new online performance dashboard to track buses’ on-time rates, he said.

“It’s made life better for riders,” O’Malley said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s better. It helps to know when the bus is coming.”

A lack of adequate state funding was the MTA’s perpetual challenge during Quinn’s tenure, O’Malley said. Even before the coronavirus reduced ridership and other transportation revenues, the agency projected a $2 billion shortfall over the coming decade.

“Either he was dealing with planned projects being canceled, or he was trying to improve the performance of the system in a way that was cost-neutral,” O’Malley said. “I always wondered what he could do under a governor who prioritized transit more, and I’ll be excited to see what he does in Vancouver.”

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Vancouver transit officials expect TransLink “will benefit from his bold, innovative and customer-centered approach to leadership,” said Tony Gugliotta, chair of the authority’s board of directors.

Quinn will lead TransLink’s post-pandemic recovery, “with an emphasis on rebuilding ridership, achieving financial sustainability, supporting employees, and continuing to deliver a reliable and thriving transportation system for Metro Vancouver,” Gugliotta said in a statement.

Quinn said he will move to the Vancouver region with his family at the end of June.

The outgoing administrator said Arnold, a 10-year veteran of the agency who took over as planning director when he was promoted to MTA chief, brings “a really smart vision and a good steady hand.”

In addition to having a wealth of knowledge and respect in the agency, the region and the transit industry, Arnold likely will experience an easier transition into the top job than he did, Quinn said. Quinn’s appointment as acting transit chief came after the ouster of his predecessor, Paul Comfort, whose chief of staff spent more than $65,000 remodeling the administrator’s office.

“There’s just tremendous benefits to the stability of the team and a peaceful transition of power,” Quinn said. “That has not historically been the case with the MTA. It has a history of some turbulence when there’s a changeover in leadership.”

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