Aug 8, 2023 - News

Cleveland RTA chief India Birdsong Terry gets 20% raise

RTA CEO India Birdsong Terry holds a microphone, backed by people in red safety vests.

RTA chief executive India Birdsong Terry introduces the transit ambassador program in 2022. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

India Birdsong Terry, general manager and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA), is now one of the nation's highest-paid public transit executives.

Driving the news: The agency's board of trustees unanimously approved a five-year contract for Birdsong Terry at its July 25 meeting, increasing her base salary more than 20%, to $335,000 from $278,000.

  • The contract, retroactive to Jan. 1 and running through December 2027, includes an annual bonus of up to 15% of her salary, per the board's discretion.

Between the lines: The board's attorney, Ralph Cascarilla, told trustees that he researched 75 transit systems to determine the appropriate market value for a leader of Birdsong Terry's caliber.

  • He described the $335,000 figure as "about the midpoint," relative to agencies with comparable staffing and vehicle numbers.

By the numbers: In St. Louis, the top transit executive makes $300,000. In San Diego, $330,000. In San Antonio, $350,000.

Yes, but: A analysis put Birdsong Terry's new compensation package at the top end of the market, vastly more than other nonprofit and government chiefs in Northeast Ohio and higher than transit chiefs in Nashville ($231,005), Chicago ($299,636) and Pittsburgh ($269,000), among others.

  • In Cleveland, Birdsong Terry will outearn Mayor Justin Bibb ($156,000), CMSD chief executive Warren Morgan ($285,000) and Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman, whose salary has ballooned from $145,000 to $324,000 since he arrived in 2010.

What they're saying: "It's been an absolute thrill to lead the team," Birdsong Terry told the board. "We're getting the funding that we deserve, the recognition that we deserve and investment through the community. I'll do the best I can to keep us moving forward over the next five years."

What we're watching: The RTA recently purchased 24 new rail cars to replace its aging Red Line fleet. Delivery is expected within four years.

  • Meanwhile, 2023 ridership is up nearly 20% year-to-date compared with last year, but still well below pre-pandemic numbers.

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