Editorial: Laketran board’s pick for new general manager is fine choice

Would Laketran’s search committee of board trustees lean toward choosing a top-notch transit executive from outside of the organization, and the region, for that matter? That’s the route Laketran took in 2003 when it hired Jurkowski, who at the time was serving as deputy commissioner of transportation in Westchester County, New York. Or would Laketran set its sights on home-grown talent and select an executive director from within its ranks?

Laketran answered that question on July 24 when the transit agency’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to promote Deputy General Manager Ben Capelle to the position of general manager for a three-year term effective Aug. 1.

Capelle will become the third general manager in the agency’s history, following Jurkowski, whose 14-year stretch at Laketran spanned from 2003 to 2017; and current Lake Metroparks Trustee Frank Polivka, who served from 1979 to 2003.

We believe that Capelle is an excellent choice for the top job at Laketran for a number of good reasons.

First of all, Capelle has built up an admirable track record at Laketran since coming aboard in 2012.

“Five years ago, Ben hit the ground running with new ideas to improve our service delivery while cutting costs, as Laketran’s operations manager,” said Laketran Board President Brian Falkowski.

It didn’t take long for Capelle to move up the organizational chart at Laketran, as he was promoted to deputy general manager in April 2016. In this position, Capelle oversees the daily operations and maintenance of Laketran’s three core services — Local Routes, commuter Park-n-Ride service to Cleveland, and door-to-door Dial-a-Ride and ADA service that includes Medicaid and Lake County Board of Developmental Disabilities contracts for the Dial-a-Ride service.

Since joining Laketran, Capelle’s achievements include leading the implementation of numerous technology upgrades, including Laketran’s GPS navigation and tracking, automatic bus locators and online reservations for Dial-a-Ride.

Capelle also spearheaded the transition to propane fuel for Laketran’s Dial-a-Ride bus fleet, which will yield an annual 35 percent fuel savings for the agency.

“I fully anticipate his momentum to continue and we will see many more accomplishments under his direction,” Falkowski said.

Before arriving at Laketran, Capelle began building the foundation of his transit career by serving as general manager of Clermont Transportation Connection in Clermont County, in southwest Ohio. Under Capelle’s direction, Clermont improved ridership by an average of 23 percent per year.

Prior to CTC, Capelle worked at First Transit lnc. in Cincinnati, and as a bus operator at Kent State University and Ohio State University, from where he graduated.

Another positive aspect of Capelle’s appointment as general manager is that it ensured a fairly seamless transition in leadership at Laketran. He already has a sound knowledge of the transit agency, and will go into his first day as general manager with a firm grasp of current issues, projects and priorities. He also worked closely with Jurkowski, the outgoing general manager. So unlike an outsider taking the reins, Capelle doesn’t need to play catch-up in figuring out how Jurkowski led Laketran, and requires no briefings on what the former GM accomplished.

“The board of trustees knew the importance of the position, as stability and a vision for the future are vital components of ensuring Laketran’s success,” Falkowski said. “Ben understands the challenges Laketran will face in the future and has a plan to not only continue offering the residents of Lake County premier public transportation, but to also make public transportation easier and more accessible for Lake County residents.”

We share those same sentiments as the board on Capelle’s qualifications. In our opinion, Capelle has demonstrated the vision, energy, innovation and leadership ability needed to jump into the driver’s seat at Laketran and keep the transit agency moving in the right direction.