The people behind the wheel: M.J. Maynard’s story, RTC Southern Nevada
Posted: 14 September 2023 | MJ Maynard - Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada | No comments yet
For the latest instalment of Intelligent Transport’s exclusive ‘The people behind the wheel’ series, M.J. Maynard, CEO of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, discusses her role in overseeing an agency that combines public transit, metropolitan planning and traffic management, while reflecting on her unconventional journey from the hospitality industry to transportation sector.
Can you tell us about your role at the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada?
To understand my role as CEO of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC SNV), you must understand what makes the agency unique. RTC SNV is the only organisation in the U.S. that houses a variety of transportation functions under one roof. We are the public transit provider, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and the region’s traffic manager. Our range of responsibilities is wide in a metropolitan area that is home to 2.4 million residents and hosts 40 million-plus visitors a year.
We connect people with people, people to places, and people with opportunities like no other place in the world, which makes the job exhilarating”
So, as CEO, I get to wear many hats and connect with the community and our partners on a variety of projects, which I very much enjoy. For example, in our role as the MPO, we co-ordinate and work with all of our local entities and the Nevada Department of Transportation. And, as the entertainment and sports capital of the world, we find ourselves regularly collaborating with pro-sports teams, concert organisers and law enforcement to ensure that people can get to where they need to go in a safe, efficient and sustainable manner.
No two days are alike in transportation in a place like Las Vegas, where we constantly encounter new challenges and prospects. We connect people with people, people to places, and people with opportunities like no other place in the world, which makes the job exhilarating.
And, while it may sound cliché, it takes a village to get this done. I get to do what I love surrounded by an extremely talented team while furthering our core values of sustainability, stewardship, safety, service and synergy. It really is a dream job.
What inspired you to seek a career in the transport industry?
While I had never really considered the transportation sector… I realised that I could transfer all the business skills I had acquired. In the end, it’s all about customer service”
If someone had told me 20 years ago that I would end up in the transportation industry, I would have said that they’re dreaming. But looking back now, it’s not the craziest idea that I ended up in the transportation sector, considering its emphasis on customer service.
Hospitality and customer service both became part of my DNA at a very young age. Out of necessity, I began working younger than most and, by the time I was a senior in high school, I was managing a restaurant. That exposure to the hospitality industry and customer service is eventually what led me from my hometown of Seattle, Washington, to Las Vegas, Nevada, and the hotel programme at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. During college, I worked in a variety of hospitality positions and eventually helped to open the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, where I spent 12 years working my way up and learning every aspect of the business, from human resources to finance.
A random conversation with the then-General Manager of RTC SNV led him to offering me a position. While I had never really considered the transportation sector, I thought it might be an exciting challenge and opportunity to use the tools that I had learned from the private sector. I realised that I could transfer all of the business skills I had acquired. In the end, it’s all about customer service – no matter what your product or service may be.
I was hired as an Assistant General Manager, then went on to be Deputy CEO and, in 2019, was promoted to CEO. Looking back now, I see that it was a natural progression for my growth and one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.
What would be the top three highlights of your career in the industry to date?
We’ve done so many great things during my time at RTC SNV, but initiatives that make me most proud are ones that have furthered our goals of equitable access, sustainability and safety.
As an agency, we’ve focused on initiatives that make our services more accessible to the entire community. One such programme is RTC-OnDemand, an on-demand shared ride service in an area lacking access to our fixed-route service. We have also assisted the local school district when it was faced with a critical school bus driver shortage by providing public transportation to high school students. In its first year, students took 150,000 trips, and that number doubled the next year.
Nearly 100% of our fleet operates on compressed natural gas, and we recently unveiled our state’s first two hydrogen fuel cell electric buses”
I’m also very proud of our efforts to combat the effects of climate change. We have developed a Zero Emissions Bus Rollout Plan that outlines the goal of transitioning 100% of our fleet to zero-emission technology by 2050, based on available funding. Nearly 100% of our fleet operates on compressed natural gas, and we recently unveiled our state’s first two hydrogen fuel cell electric buses.
Prioritising safety is top of mind for RTC SNV and other transit agencies around the world. Although there is always more to do, I’m proud of the strides that we’ve made. We’ve invested millions of dollars in the last decade to make our system safer for transit drivers and passengers. We recently increased the number of security guards on our system by 16%, increased staffing in our 24/7 command centre, added GPS tracking and live incident reporting, and are piloting a GPS-based panic button. To enhance the safety of those waiting at our bus stops, we’ve added more lighting, moved shelters back five feet from the curb where possible, as well as installed more shelters to provide shade to combat the brutal desert heat.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I hope to be remembered as someone who genuinely cared about everyone with whom I worked… Helping others will always be a priority of mine”
Looking forward, one of my goals is to ensure that the talented team at RTC SNV is preparing the next generation of transportation leaders to keep moving Southern Nevada forward. An ongoing issue in our community is transit funding, and I want my team to continue focusing on and arming our next generation with the tools and skills to address this challenge head on.
Through these interactions, I hope to be remembered as someone who genuinely cared about everyone with whom I worked. I hope that others appreciated it when I pushed them outside of their comfort zone to help them to grow and discover their untapped potential. I hope that I, too, am in a position where I am continuing to learn. Whatever I may be doing in my career, I want to make sure that I am still growing and challenging myself.
Helping others will always be a priority of mine. I want to continue assisting those who struggle with mental health through the 3630 Foundation, a non-profit that I founded. In 2022, my husband, a retired police officer, took his own life. I created the 3630 Foundation to help other law enforcement officers whom are struggling with mental health issues. I am actively working with leadership at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to support these efforts and look forward to giving resources to officers in need.
What key pieces of advice would you give to someone who is interested in a career in transport?
Keep an open mind. Many think that working in transportation means being a bus driver or mechanic… But a transportation agency like RTC SNV requires individuals with a variety of skillsets”
I applaud anyone who is interested in the transportation field and wants to serve their community. Most don’t realise how vital transportation is to a community by fuelling economic development and connecting people to others, work, education, vital services, recreation and entertainment.
I would advise those interested in transportation to keep an open mind. Many think that working in transportation means being a bus driver or mechanic. And, yes, we certainly need individuals to fill those positions. But a transportation agency like RTC SNV requires individuals with a variety of skillsets. We need what any other business would need, including marketing staff to help promote services, engineers to oversee roadway projects, accountants to oversee our complex funding. The list goes on. There is likely a position suited to just about anyone. So, if you are truly interested in helping the community, please consider a career in transportation and explore the available options. You won’t be disappointed.
In an ideal world, what do you hope the future of public transport will look like?
The modes of transportation may change, but it is my hope that they are multimodal, sustainable, efficient, safe and accessible”
I’m proud that, within the RTC SNV, culture we are willing to take risks, especially regarding technology. Advances in transportation occur at lightning speed due to technology. I believe that technology will dictate the future of transportation, and our community will suffer if we do not keep pace with these advances.
The possible risks associated with technology also come with the possibility of great rewards. For RTC SNV, the best way to approach these new advances has been to participate in pilot projects. During my time with the agency, we’ve looked to advances in technology to help us create programmes that are multimodal, sustainable, efficient, safe and accessible.
We’ve participated in several pilot programmes that could enhance transit driver and passenger safety. We placed artificial intelligence (AI) sensors and cameras inside transit vehicles, and camera vehicles enable operators to optimise side-view mirrors. We have also placed cameras on bus exteriors to continuously monitor the driving environment. Our region was also the first in the U.S. to pilot an autonomous shuttle that transported more than 32,000 passengers during its first year in operation. We have also recently introduced two hydrogen fuel cell electric buses, with more coming in late 2023, along with battery electric buses.
The modes of transportation may change, but it is my hope that they are multimodal, sustainable, efficient, safe and accessible.
M.J. Maynard is the CEO of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. Recognising that mobility shapes communities and economies, M.J. proudly leads RTC SNV as connector of the region’s business sector, its more than 2.3 million residents and 40-plus million annual visitors. She is passionate about building and sustaining a transportation system with a robust roadway network and efficient public transit that connects the Las Vegas Valley, improves air quality and creates economic opportunities for people and businesses.