*updated on 1/21/21 confirming appointment
After seven years serving as General Manager/CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), Nuria I. Fernandez will be stepping down to join the Biden-Harris Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). She was appointed to Deputy Administrator for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on January 21, 2021.*
With more than 35 years of experience, Nuria has made a name for herself as an inspiring leader in the transportation industry. At the VTA helm, Nuria was responsible for 2,100 employees, delivering projects, programs, and transit services that provide mobility solutions for the people who live and work in Silicon Valley.
“It has been pure joy to lead the VTA organization and see the early seeds of plans develop into programs and projects that will continue to transform mobility in this region for many years to come,” said Fernandez. “In my seven years, my team of talented public servants delivered great transportation accomplishments, of which I was humbly a part of in making our community better.”
“As sad as I am to see Nuria go, I’m more thrilled for this great opportunity for her personally and professionally. There is truly no one better at this time, in this moment, to take on such a pivotal role in transportation,” said Glenn Hendricks, VTA Board Chair. “The people of Santa Clara County were the beneficiaries of her nationally recognized leadership in transportation, policy, management and social equity. I’m extremely grateful for that and overjoyed for the people of the United States of America who will get to have this experience and benefit from it too.”
Nuria served as Chair of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) from 2019-2020 while the industry was faced with the triple threat of a pandemic, a recession and grave unrest over racial injustices. As a first, Nuria’s term was extended a year to continue her leadership with the national organization to advance advocacy, innovation, workforce development and membership growth.
"I want to thank Nuria for her vision and leadership as Chair of APTA. She has been exemplary in leading our industry during a time of unprecedented challenges and transformational change," said APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. "We look forward to engaging with Nuria in her new role, as the industry stands ready to work with President Biden, his administration, and the new Congress in a unified push to move our country forward and build the public transportation infrastructure of the future.”
Prior to leading VTA, Nuria served in leadership positions at some of the busiest transit agencies in the nation, including Chief Operating Officer of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Sr. Vice President of Design and Construction for the Chicago Transit Authority and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, consecutively. She also served as Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Aviation overseeing O’Hare and Midway Airports. Born and raised in Panama City, Panama, Nuria immigrated to the U.S. to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and Master of Business Administration.
"The Valley Transportation Authority is left a better agency having been under Nuria’s leadership,” said Cindy Chavez, Santa Clara County Board Supervisor and past VTA Board Chair. “She expanded diversity and equity within the agency and for the betterment of our community and provided unwavering direction through the devastating impact of the COVID pandemic. VTA’s infrastructure projects and transit services are on a strong path to success, and for that we owe Nuria Fernandez a debt of gratitude."
No stranger to leadership appointments at the federal level, Nuria served as Acting Federal Transit Administrator for President Bill Clinton. She enabled the administration of more than a billion dollars in annual grant funding to local communities for planning, design, and construction of new and expanding rail and bus systems.
Nuria’s last day at VTA is January 19, 2021. VTA Board Chair Glenn Hendricks has appointed Evelynn Tran as interim General Manager/CEO while a national search is conducted.
Throughout the Years
Among the highlights of Nuria’s VTA tenure, safety and security remained top priority with financial and funding stability a close second. In 2016, overwhelming voter support for a half-cent, 30-year sales tax helped place VTA in a strong position to improve the condition of overworked transportation infrastructure and services throughout Santa Clara County. Under her leadership, a creative and dedicated team worked tirelessly with 15 local jurisdictions to prepare a framework to distribute critically needed funds over nine categories, ranging from local streets and roads and bicycle/pedestrian improvements to increased transit operations and grade-separated, rapid rail investments.
As VTA prepared to introduce the heavy rail Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) service to Silicon Valley, the growing number of passengers traveling to and throughout Santa Clara County required a complete overhaul of the VTA transit system. Two months before the pandemic hit, VTA launched its brand new, more frequent transit network seeing immediate ridership gains from the improved service.
Soon thereafter, among little fanfare because of strict pandemic shelter-in-place orders, the first phase of the 16-mile BART extension opened for passenger service on June 12, 2020. Seven months later, VTA became the first transit agency in the country to win approval of funding in the FTA's Expedited Project Delivery pilot program, receiving a commitment of $225 million to date for the remaining 6-mile, BART Phase II project. Together with the proposed innovative tunneling methodology and the public private partnership approach to a transit-oriented development, BART Phase II will serve as a model for the industry.
Nuria was also responsible for the creation of VTA’s “Innovation Center,” an incubator to encourage collaboration, test the latest technology, and imagine new ways to keep the valley moving forward by leveraging the expertise of Silicon Valley’s high-tech corporations and universities. Transit agencies across the nation have been looking to VTA’s initiatives to inform innovations efforts through the years; from piloting the Ford GoBike dockless bike program to developing a cutting-edge “vehicle to grid integration” solution that will manage operations, charging and energy consumption of VTA’s electric buses. And, with a recent innovation grant from the Federal Transit Administration, VTA is working with the Department of Veterans Administration to develop, test and demonstrate the first ADA-compliant, accessible, autonomous vehicle designed to serve veteran and the disabled.
Among the innovation and project delivery accomplishments, Nuria’s long-lasting legacy will be the strides she made in workforce development and the advancement of women in the transportation industry. She established VTA’s Business Diversity Program to increase participation of minority, women, disabled veterans and LGBT businesses in locally funded contracts and subcontracts, and to ensure that these businesses are afforded an equitable opportunity to compete in public contracting. Her vision to grow leaders within the walls of her own organization resulted in VTA’s first Leadership Academy and a Mentors on Demand Program.
In addition, she fostered the nationally acclaimed Joint Workforce Investment (JWI) mentoring and training program between management and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265. This partnership is known for successfully bringing labor and management together to identify and implement solutions that upskill, reskill and build the knowledge and capabilities of operators and maintenance workers. In 2019, Nuria hosted the President of ATU International, John Costa, to give him a better understanding of VTA’s model apprenticeship program. That visit led to the adoption of a resolution by ATU International to use VTA’s program as a model for their chapters at transit agencies across the country. The resolution referred to VTA’s JWI program as the “gold standard” for apprenticeship programs in transportation.
In addition, VTA’s training of its operators and other employees became the model for a California law that addressed how public transit agencies can combat human trafficking. More than 2,100 VTA employees went through Human Trafficking awareness training which was critically helpful to have in place before the City of Santa Clara hosted Super Bowl 50 in 2016 at Levi's Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers.
With equity for all at the forefront amid grave unrest over social injustices, Nuria was steadfast in her commitment to have VTA join the Government Alliance on Race and Equity national network to achieve equity and advance opportunities for all. A team of VTA employees representing various levels in the agency is now working to promote the consideration of equity throughout agency services and policies.
Nuria has been nationally recognized on many fronts by the industry, most recently named 2020 Woman of the Year by the international organization Women’s Transportation Seminar nominated by the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of University Transportation Centers in 2016. She was honored with the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award in 2015 and made the list of New York’s Most Powerful Women in 2013.