MTS Board Appoints Sharon Cooney as new CEO

MTS Board also approves $346 million spending plan that restores service to pre-COVID levels

San Diego –  Today, The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) Board of Directors unanimously appointed Sharon Cooney to take over as chief executive officer for the agency. Cooney takes over for Paul Jablonksi who passed away suddenly on Sunday, May 10. Cooney is the first woman CEO in the history of the organization.

“Sharon has all the qualities to manage a large transit agency like MTS,” said MTS Board Chair and San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “At no time in the history of MTS has there been a clearer need for strong and reliable leadership. Sharon brings passion, institutional knowledge, and a track record of success to the job. She has been performing at a high level as Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief of Staff for years. The entire board is confident that Sharon is the right person to keep MTS as one of the nation’s top transit agencies.”

“I am honored that the board expressed confidence in me,” said Cooney. “I think the board also understands that Mr. Jablonski assembled one of the best staffs in the entire country. I am lucky to have been mentored by one of the nation’s most respected transit leaders and to have a group of professionals that are absolutely dedicated to advancing public transit in San Diego. We are all ready to take on the challenges today and into the future.”

Cooney has held many top-level positions at MTS during her 15-year career including the director of government affairs, director of planning, chief of staff and deputy chief executive officer. She has been integral to the success of two of San Diego’s largest infrastructure projects ever accomplished, the Trolley Renewal Project ($660 million) and the Mid-Coast Trolley Extension Project ($2.1 billion). Other regionally significant projects she has worked on or is currently working on include:

  • New Rapid Network: San Diego’s first high frequency limited stop bus network
  • PRONTO – the agency’s Next Generation Fare Collection System, $35 million investment that is launching 2021
  • Elevate SD 2020: One of the largest public outreach efforts taking place in San Diego to develop a shared vision for transit in San Diego
  • The recent Transit Optimization Plan, an effort to further align the MTS system with market demand

She takes over an agency that provides transit service in 10 cities in the region, including much of the unincorporated area of the county totaling more than 3,200 square miles. MTS operates 54 miles of double-tracked light rail and more than 95 fixed routes, paratransit services, taxicab administration and oversight freight rail lines. MTS and its contracted services employs more than 2,800 people.

Cooney previously worked as a staff officer for the County of San Diego’s office of strategy and intergovernmental affairs, as the legislative director for former San Diego County Supervisor Rob Roberts.

Her appointment comes on the heels of the Board’s unanimous approval of the FY 2021 budget. It’s a $346 million spending plan that is relying on COVID-19 federal stimulus funds to restore service and balance the budget, and provides a $1,000 essential service worker stipend for all employees.

“While we will have significant budget challenges ahead, MTS will be receiving about $220 million in CARES Act funding from the federal government, which will help us keep high service levels for our most vulnerable residents,” said Fletcher. “Over the last 15 years, MTS has put itself in a strong financial position with a healthy reserve. This will pay dividends as the economy heals.”

Budget highlights include:

  • Returning to near full service levels in early summer
  • To maintain distancing goals amid increasing ridership levels
  • UC San Diego Blue Line service will be restored to all-day 7-minute service by June 14
  • Bus routes will start most regular summer service by late June
  • Some service levels to closed facilities would remain suspended (i.e. colleges, SeaWorld, etc.)
  • I-15 commuter routes would increase to approx. 50% of regular schedule
  • CARES Act (federal stimulus funding): $135 million of $220 million total apportioned to MTS (61%) will be used to balance budgets for FY20 and FY21
  • Passenger revenue is anticipated to improve each month but not back to 100% of baseline in FY21
  • Overall ridership is down 70% from Fall 2019; week of April 6 was low point
  • MTS reserve balance at $37.8 million