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									COVER STORY

                                 BACK to BASICS
                                                             I  I had a lot of people question my
                                                             sanity when I told them I was heading
                                                             to Cleveland for an upcoming cover
                                                             story. The fact is that Cleveland could
                                                             easily be transit’s best kept secret. I’ve
                                                             been to cities touted for their transit
                                                             systems and still had to spend hun-
                                                             dreds of dollars for a taxi just to and
                                                             from the airport.
                                                                What most of those naysayers don’t
                                                             know is that Cleveland is brimming
                                                             with transit options — bus, rail, sub-
                                                             way, BRT RTV. That last one you may
                                                             not recognize. Greater Cleveland Re-
                                                             gional Transit Authority (GCRTA) CEO
                                                             Joe Calabrese refuses to call the Euclid
                                                             Avenue line by the more familiar bus
                                                             rapid transit name, instead preferring
                                                             Rapid Transit Vehicles.
                                                                “I do not call them buses,” Calabrese
                                                             says. “Buses shouldn’t cost $900,000.”
                                                                It’s this no-nonsense approach
                                                             that Calabrese brings to every part of
                                                             his system. He prefers to be involved
                                                             in most aspects, including leading the
                                                             tour of a transit magazine editor per-
                                                             sonally. This approach fits his transit
                                                             background perfectly.

                                                             DIVING IN
                                                                 Emerging from graduate school in
                                                             1975, Calabrese faced an uncertain
                                                             time with skyrocketing oil prices and
                                                             a call for more public transit invest-
by Fred Jandt                                                ment. Presented with opportunities
                                                             with Mobil Oil or the Central New York
                                                             Regional Transportation Authority
                                                             (CNYRTA), he saw transit as the fu-
Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s CEO           ture, but he had no experience. So he
Joe Calabrese makes transit work in this blue-collar         dove into the deep end.
                                                                 “I knew nothing about public tran-
town by focusing on the basics.                              sit,” Calabrese says.
                                                                 “I said I would love to come and
                                                             work for you and he wanted me to re-
                                                             ally head up his labor relations and
                                                             the training department. But I said

10   April/May 2010 • MassTransit •
you know I really wanted to learn the
industry first. So he gave me six months
to learn the industry.”
    So Calabrese began what is likely the
first version of Undercover Boss.
    “I got enrolled undercover through
the bus driver training program for 30
days. I drove for 30 days. I then went
into the maintenance department. I
worked as a mechanic, as a servicer as
a hostler. I worked in the parts room. I      Cleveland’s Health Line features what Joe Calabrese calls ‘Rapid Transit Vehicles,’ the first of their kind in
worked as a dispatcher. I worked on the       the United States. Photo by Steve Bitto.
radio. I worked as a station master and
a number of things,” Calabrese says.
    “And then I said OK, now I think I’m        “Myself and a friend had
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