San Diego’s Public Transportation Champion
MTS Chief Executive Officer Paul Jablonski passed away suddenly on Sunday, May 10, 2020.
To remember Paul's life and celebrate his impact on MTS, the San Diego region and the transit industry, we hosted a bus processional through downtown San Diego on Friday, May 15, 2020.
Fittingly, Paul Jablonski began his career as a bus driver. He worked his way through college for the campus bus system while attending University of Massachusetts - Amherst.
Many of the attributes bus drivers learn from being behind the wheel – leadership, attentiveness, accountability, public service, and more, Paul applied to every position he held in a career that spanned more than 40 years.
All of his skills and attributes were put to the test when he arrived at the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System on January 1, 2004.
“We don’t have the personnel to run payroll” was how Paul was greeted on his first day at the helm of MTS, which, due to legislation passed prior to his arrival, had been decimated of leadership and staff. Planning functions had been stripped. Finance, HR and Marketing were cut to the bones. Trolley, Bus and Contracted Services divisions operated in silos with duplicative functions. The Metropolitan Transit Development Board (as MTS was formerly known) was not a smooth-running multi-modal public transit provider on Day One of Paul’s tenure; but he developed one almost from scratch.
MTS provides services to almost every corner of San Diego County, serving the urban core and rural areas of more than 3,200 square miles. Mr. Jablonski’s responsibilities include 54 miles of double-tracked light rail and more than 95 fixed routes, paratransit services, taxicab administration and oversight freight rail lines stretching to the California desert. MTS and its contracted services employs more than 2,800 people. And he positioned the agency to expand ever more.
MTS is considered a large-sized transit agency. And Paul’s work to turn the agency into a top performing transit system did not go unnoticed by his peers around the country. Under his leadership, the agency received national recognition on a number of fronts. Recent achievements included:
- 2008 - Outstanding System of the Year
- 2014 – General Manager of the Year – Paul Jablonski
- 2015 – Bus Safety Excellence Award for reducing preventable accidents
- 2017 – Bus Safety Excellence Award for improving pedestrian safety
- 2018 – Rail Safety Excellence Award for downtown safety improvements
Paul’s influence in the public transportation industry extends far beyond the past 16 years and the work he has accomplished to transform MTS. He has been contributing to the industry for more than 40 years. He has worked around the world, initiating transit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and helping Mendoza, Argentina, establish its first light rail system. He has brought innovations to both the private and public sectors.
While Paul started his transit career behind the wheel of a bus, he became a seasoned and polished transit professional by the time he joined MTS. His other relevant experience included:
- CEO and General Manager of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) in Cincinnati, Ohio.
- Director of Operations for the Cleveland Public School System
- Senior Operations Consultant for ATE Management working for Dallas Area Rapid Transit,
- General Manager of the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority outside of Boston.
- Capital District Transportation Authority in Albany, NY
A steady theme throughout Paul’s career was about contributing to advancement of transit in the United States and around the world. Paul had a team-first collaborative nature. He had a firm belief in the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the California Transit Association (CTA). He was respected among his peers. He was always asked to be a keynote speaker, to participate on panels and contribute to the greater-good of transit. And he always obliged. Some of key roles outside of MTS included:
- Finance Committee member - APTA
- Past Executive Committee Board member - APTA
- Past Chair of the Rail CEO’s and Rail Transit Committees - APTA
- Executive Committee - CTA
- Past Chairman – CTA (2011-13)
- Past president of the Ohio Public Transit Association
Away from work, Paul’s number one passion was family. He enjoyed daily hikes with his wife and long hiking trips with his children. Paul cherished his visits back east to see his grandchildren. He also enjoyed fly fishing. With his Massachusetts background, Paul was also a New England Patriots fan – his favorite player was Rob Gronkowski. Paul is survived by his wife Debbie, four children and two grandchildren.
- Green Line Mission Valley East extension opens, connecting Old Town to Santee through SDSU
- First low-floor Trolley cars deployed on system, operating on the Green Line
- TSA-trained bomb-detecting K-9 unit initiated for Trolley and transit stations
- MTS reaches 99-year ground lease agreement with Fairfield Residential for $100 million for Transit Oriented Development at Grossmont Transit Center
- MTS Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA) redesigns bus network for the first time in 23 years
- MTS adds 26 new commuter buses to service
- Smart Corner Grand Opening - Mixed-use Transit Oriented Development partnership between MTS, City of San Diego and SANDAG
- MTS adds 26 new Compressed Natural Gas-powered articulated buses, replacing older diesel models
- MTS passes milestone and honors 500 millionth ride
- Initial purchase of 57 new model low-floor Trolley cars for $205 million to improve system state of good repair
- MTS is named Outstanding Public Transit System of the Year by the American Public Transportation Association
- Compass Cards first introduced to the public
- MTS and SANDAG reaches agreement with Vons for Compass Card distribution in San Diego
- The 5-year $660 million Trolley Renewal project begins; first phase is replacement of all catenary wire on the Blue Line
- MTS signs $3.3 million agreement to sell 11 Trolleys to Mendoza Province in Argentina
- MTS begins service on the Silver Line – a downtown San Diego loop featuring renovated PCC streetcars
- MTS dedicates SDSU Trolley Station to Leon Williams
- MTS introduces a real-time arrival texting option, the MTS GO! App and GTFS-realtime to improve next-arrival information for riders. MTS was one of eight transit agencies to partner with Google on public transportation scheduling technology
- Green Line Trolley service is extended from Old Town to Downtown San Diego for more efficient travel
- MTS reaches agreement with Albertson's for Compass Card distribution in San Diego
- MTS introduces mobile ticketing app called mTicket for special events
- Low-Floor Trolleys begin operating on the Orange Line
- MTS introduces Rapid 215, 235 and 237 - three commuter and express bus routes from SDSU to Downtown, San Diego, Escondido to Downtown, San Diego and Rancho Bernardo to UC San Diego
- MTS sets a record for Comic-Con Trolley ridership with 239,227 extra trips taken during the four-day event
- MTS sets a record – 95 million passengers rode the bus and Trolley in FY 2014
- $660 million Trolley Renewal Project is completed, revitalizing entire system
- MTS reaches 30-year, $36 million naming rights agreement with UC San Diego Health for the Blue Line
- MTS receives perfect score from federal government during comprehensive review of operations and finances. It was the third straight perfect score for MTS.
- MTS shatters previous ridership record – logging 97 million passengers in FY 2015
- East County Bus Operations and Maintenance Facility opens
- MTS deploys eco-friendly propane buses into San Diego communities – reducing emissions by 2 million pounds annually
- MTS continues commitment to a state of good repair by ordering 45 new light rail vehicles from Siemens
- MTS reaches binational agreement to reconstruct the Desert Line railroad to connect Mexico maquiladoras to rail shipping in the United States
- MTS Bus wins national award for pedestrian safety
- Compass Cloud - the agency’s first every-day mobile ticketing app launches
- Bus service boosted by $2 million annually as part of the Transit Optimization Plan to provide more efficient and faster bus trips
- New security staffing plan launched to add a greater uniform presence on the transit system
- MTS expands high-frequency bus network to get people to destinations faster
- New Courthouse Trolley station opens in downtown San Diego – the agency’s first new Trolley station since 2005
- MTS holds first Free Ride Day – riders cash in as transit ridership spikes by 47,000 extra trips
- New 5000-series Trolley vehicles begin service
- MTS green lights new housing development in Grantville to build 156 affordable units and 254 market-rate student units
- MTS’ second Free Ride Day builds on success of 2018 – ridership spikes by 100,000 extra trips
- Transit ridership rebounds in San Diego – MTS logs 1 million extra passenger trips in the first three months of FY 2020
- Study shows that MTS delivers $1 billion in annual value to regional economy
- First battery-electric MTS buses begin serving passengers
- MTS ramps up UC San Diego Blue Line Trolley service to accommodate growing ridership
- Transit ridership continues to grow – Trolley and bus ridership increases 1.2 million trips over in the first six months of FY 2020