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Metro Transit's general manager retires March 2004

After 31 years in the 'driver's seat,' Rick Walsh says goodbye to agency he grew up with

Rick Walsh 2004

Starting out as a bus driver and finishing up as the general manager of one of the largest transit agencies in the country, Rick Walsh spent more than 30 years in the driver's seat at Metro Transit.

King County Department of Transportation Director Harold Taniguchi said Walsh's retirement marks the departure of someone who participated in and oversaw much of the coming of age of Metro Transit.

"Under Rick's direction, King County Metro Transit has grown into one of the largest and best-managed transit systems in the nation," said Taniguchi. "Metro is one of the Seattle area's most reliable institutions - famed for the quality and efficiency of its service, and the legendary courtesy of its drivers."

Walsh started out as one of those drivers upon his graduation from the University of Washington in 1973. Within two years, Walsh was promoted to work in transit planning, and in 1981 he was promoted again to supervisor of operations and transit planning.

Walsh began expanding his reputation as an innovator in 1986, when he became manager of service planning and market development for the transit system. Popular programs that Walsh helped develop are the UPass for University of Washington students, staff and faculty, and the Boeing Employee Transportation program. Both programs earned national recognition for transportation innovation.

Rick Walsh at tunnel opening 1990. Rick standing on right.

Bigger challenges lay ahead. Walsh became Metro's deputy transit director in 1989, as the agency was poised for major changes. Among the highlights of Walsh's tenure in that position was the construction and startup of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel - at that time the biggest transit project in King County history. He also led the efforts to adapt transit services to changes in population and travel patterns, by increasing service between multiple hubs and building more transit centers in suburban areas of King County.

Next up, was the merger of King County and Metro Transit in 1996, which brought Walsh to his current position as general manager. In this role, he has been responsible for a $405 million annual operating budget, an $800 million capital program, 4,500 employees, and a fleet of 1,300 buses, 700 vanpool vans, and 260 paratransit vehicles.

Walsh's individual accomplishments are too numerous to mention, but among the highlights of his years at Metro are:

  • Expanded bus service by 40 percent in the past 20 years;
  • Grew the number of operating vanpools by 27 percent to create the largest publicly owned and operated vanpool service in the nation;
  • Increased paratransit service for the disabled and frail elderly by 100 percent in a three-year time period starting in the late 1990s;
  • Developed and implemented several online services that vastly increased customers' access to transit information;
  • Replaced and modernized the entire transit fleet since 1996;
  • Increased employer-based pass programs to more than 500 accounts; and
  • Implemented Metro's electronic fare collection system, and laid the foundation for the upcoming integrated fare system involving seven different transportation agencies in the Puget Sound region.

Under Walsh's direction, in 2000 King County Metro Transit was the first transit system to receive the prestigious "Innovation in Government Award" from the Ford Foundation and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. The American Public Transportation Association has twice named Metro as the "Best Large Transit Agency" in the nation.

"Rick leaves a transit agency recognized as one of the best in the nation, and he will be remembered as a fair and caring manager, who rose up through the ranks and directed the growth and modernization of one of the Northwest's great regional success stories," said Taniguchi.

Walsh comes from a transit family. His grandfather was a cablecar operator for the old Seattle Municipal Railway and a motorman on the Interurban rail line between Seattle and Tacoma. His father served as director of Tacoma Transit.

Read the County Executive's proclamation creating Rick Walsh Day.

Updated: Feb. 2004