CHAPEL HILL — Steve Spade, director of Chapel Hill Transit for the past six years, will leave to become the transit director for Wichita, Kan.
“While we wish Steve well, this is a serious blow to our transit operations,” Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil said. The town will start a search process for a new director with bus system partners UNC and Carrboro.
Spade arrived when Chapel Hill Transit had just 35-foot buses. Under his leadership, the system acquired its first hybrid and articulated buses, the 60-foot Slinky-like buses that double seating capacity during peak travel times. The new $22 million Chapel Hill Transit maintenance center on Millhouse Road next to the Town Operations Center was also built during his tenure.
“I think we’ve done a lot in the last six years to improve the quality of service,” Spade said in an interview Wednesday. “Our buses are more timely. Our drivers are doing a great job.”
He also said he is proud of the collaboration he’s helped foster among Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC, which will remain important in the face of uncertain future state and federal funding. The three local partners contribute about $10 million of Chapel Hill Transit’s $19 million budget, he noted.
Chapel Hill Transit is best known for its fare-free system that provides over 7 million rides annually. Satisfaction surveys show 85 percent of riders rate service as very good or excellent, Spade said. Most surveys of bus systems across the country get 50 percent satisfaction, he said.
Spade’s last day is Oct. 26. His departure will come about a week before Orange County residents vote on a half-cent sales tax (5 cents on a $10 purchase) on the November ballot for improved transit services: primarily a regional light rail line and Bus Rapid Transit. BRT would use bigger buses traveling more frequently and in dedicated lanes and/or with technology that would give them preferential treatment in traffic.
Spade joined Chapel Hill Transit in 2006 after retiring as the general manager of the Des Moines Metropolitan Transit Authority, where he worked for 32 years. In his resignation letter, he said he and his wife wanted to return to the Midwest to be closer to their families.
“At the same time I have been presented with an incredible opportunity to continue my transit career in Wichita, a Midwestern city located in close proximity to our families,” he said. “I am excited about the new challenges that await me at Wichita Transit and we are looking forward to having more time with our family. There is also a sense of sadness as we will miss the many friends we have made in Chapel Hill.
Stancil called Spade an inspired leader.
“Our partnership with UNC and Carrboro and the quality of our system is the envy of many cities across the country. Steve has worked hard to improve relationships with our employees as well as with other local, state, and federal partners in proving transportation to our community. ... I especially will miss his leadership, his innovative thinking, his efforts to be part of the greater team for our community, his friendship and even his humor.”