Editorial: Job well done by PVTA administrator

  • A PVTA bus makes a turn after a stop at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley. JERREY ROBERTS/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Sandra Sheehan has been hired as the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority’s new administrator. She is expected to start at the end of May 2017 and will succeed Mary MacInnes, who retired April 28 after 10 years in the post.  —Submitted photo

Published: 5/12/2017 8:24:05 PM

There’s an old saying that a leader always should try to leave a place better than he or she found it. That’s exactly what Mary MacInnes did as longtime administrator of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority — and then some.

MacInnes, who retired April 28, inherited a financial and organizational mess when she began at PVTA 10 years ago. Shortly before she arrived, the agency had been the subject of a series of audits that detailed poor money management and procurement practices. That included the misuse of $4.2 million in federal funds and $1 million in state funds.

As a result, MacInnes’ predecessor as administrator, a former chief financial officer and the agency’s general counsel were all fired. Two of those employees later reached financial settlements with the agency.

Among MacInnes’ first tasks was cleaning up the agency’s books and restoring order to the state’s largest regional transit authority. She hired an auditor who found $10 million in accounting errors that needed to be corrected. MacInnes then conducted a total reorganization of the agency.

When those matters finally got sorted out, and morale of employees improved, she then went about the business of advancing the region’s public transportation service.

The PVTA operates on a $47.3 million budget and has a fleet of 186 buses and 132 vans that serve 24 cities and towns in Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden counties. In 2016, more than 12 million riders used its services, which is about 39 percent of all riders using the 15 regional transit authorities statewide.

Under MacInnes’ leadership, and with the support of state and federal lawmakers, the PVTA has been more responsive to consumers by expanding bus routes and improving van services for disabled people and seniors. Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, chairman of the PVTA advisory board, said that under MacInnes, “the fleet has improved, routes have been modernized and efficiencies introduced.”

The transit authority has put hybrid-electric and electric buses on the road and been a leader in technology with automatic stop announcements added on its vehicles and real-time signs installed at stops.

Amherst Select Board member Douglas Slaughter, another advisory board member, said MacInnes “used her experience and expertise to make the PVTA the exemplar of how a regional transit authority should be led and run.”

It’s clear MacInnes was the right person for the job, coming to the PVTA after she served as administrator of the Worcester Regional Transit Authority. She also had worked at Smart Route Systems Inc. in Cambridge, a real-time traffic and information service; at the Massachusetts Port Authority and MBTA in Boston; and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

That experience put MacInnes in a good position to steer the PVTA on a better course. She leaves the regional transit agency in good shape for her successor, Sandra Sheehan, director of grants and contract administration for the Greater Hartford Transit District in Connecticut.

Sheehan is no stranger to the Pioneer Valley or the PVTA where she previously worked for 13 years as director of transit and procurement. Earlier, Sheehan was a transportation planner with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission from 1991 to 1994.

Sheehan plans to focus on transitioning PVTA’s Springfield hub to the newly restored Union Station, and managing construction of PVTA’s new $55 million bus operations and maintenance facility on Cottage Street in Springfield.

“Every passenger should have an outstanding experience when using the PVTA,” Sheehan said after her hiring, noting that her “experience and passion” would allow her and the PVTA staff to bring the transit system “into the next era.”

Those are encouraging words for PVTA riders to hear, and we look forward to seeing the regional transit service continue to shine under Sheehan, who must build on what MacInnes has left behind: a legacy of public service rooted in her experience and passion.


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