New manager takes wheel at Golden Gate Transit
Friend and colleague of Insight Strategies and graduate of the Eno Transit Senior Executive Mona Baubata. Congratulations Mona, Golden Gate Transit chose wisely.
Novato resident Mona Babauta is the new manager of Golden Gate Transit, a system with 400 employees and a $90 million operating budget. (Sherry LaVars/Special to Marin Independent Journal)
A Novato resident and transportation veteran has been tapped to run the Golden Gate Transit bus system, which has wrestled off and on with inconsistent service, driver absenteeism and dwindling ridership in recent years.
Mona Babauta, who has lived in Novato since 2003, began her duties as deputy general manager of the bus system earlier this month. Before that she was the first executive director at Solano County Transit, which was established in 2011.
Babauta, 43, replaced Teri Mantony, who retired earlier this year.
"My job is to make sure the system is reliable," said Babauta, who has also worked for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Santa Rosa CityBus, among other transit agencies. "That will help improve ridership and get people loyal to the system. It's hard to tell people to jump on the bus if it's not reliable."
Babauta inherits some challenges.
Golden Gate Transit ridership dipped to roughly 3.3 million annual riders in 2016. Bus ridership was as high as 4.1 million in 2008, but declined after a series of cuts to service to help the bridge district balance its budget.
Last year, a shortage of Golden Gate Transit drivers meant a higher than usual number of canceled runs. Transit officials acknowledged the issue, which they said was caused by a dearth of drivers and absenteeism.
"We continue to recruit and we just graduated a new class of drivers, and we just started a new class," Babauta said. "We are constantly recruiting. We have to make sure we are staffed appropriately for the levels of service."
The district also is working with the bus drivers' union on finding ways to get drivers to work in some capacity, even if medical conditions prevent them from getting behind the wheel.
Service has improved since last year's troubles, said bus rider Jim Skidmore of Novato.
"No issues lately. For me, sending out the email when they do not run is helpful," he said. "They still cancel once in a while, but it's not epidemic like it was."
Babauta will be paid $205,000 annually to manage the system, which has 400 employees and a $90 million operating budget. The system has about 280 drivers and operates roughly 200 buses in Marin, Contra Costa, Sonoma and San Francisco counties.
Blake Lewis, who heads Amalgamated Transit Union 1575, said his first impression of Babauta is good.
"She is very personable," said Lewis, whose union represents drivers. "She has a good reputation in the region. I look forward to working with her. She deserves a fair shot."
Babauta said one of her priorities will be to find better ways to connect with customers.
"Communicating well with the public and keeping them informed is critical," she said. "We want to find ways to let the customer know when their bus is coming. I'm working on that."
She also hopes to improve the bus fleet.
"Investing in the system is important: new equipment and new buses, bringing on diesel hybrids and keeping the fleet in a state of good repair," she said. "I would also like to find savings and reinvest those into the system."
On a larger scale, Babauta sees the transit system as part of the quality of life in Marin.
"We want to make communities thrive," she said. "How do we get people to work? How do we see public transit as a solution? It's part of our role."