The Riverside Transit Agency’s (RTA) move to zero-emission buses just took a big step. That’s because the U.S. Department of Transportation today awarded RTA a $5.1 million grant to buy five 40-foot hydrogen fuel cell electric buses, propelling the Agency’s ambitious goal of transitioning its directly operated fleet of compressed natural gas buses (CNG) to zero-emission vehicles.
The move to replace all 145 large buses is expected to happen in phases beginning in 2026. Smaller buses and trolleys, currently powered by CNG and unleaded gas, could also go zero emission.
News of the federal grant comes just a few weeks after RTA Chair and Temecula Mayor Pro Tem Zak Schwank, RTA Second Vice Chair and Canyon Lake Mayor Jeremy Smith and RTA Chief Executive Officer Kristin Warsinski visited Washington DC to advocate for more funding to support the Agency’s move to hydrogen fuel.
“RTA has always been a leader in eco-friendly transportation,” Schwank said. “Looking ahead, we are excited about continuing our tradition by making significant investments in zero-emission vehicles. The future is bright for RTA and federal funding coming our way will help us build a leaner, greener fleet.”
Smith said RTA is pleased to join transit agencies across America that are already developing and implementing projects to move to zero-emission buses.
“This funding will help our efforts to charge forward and make a real difference in the way public transportation is delivered in western Riverside County,” he said. “We are thrilled to receive this much-needed funding and appreciative of the support we’ve received on a national level.”
Of course, the federal funding headed RTA’s way is part of a larger picture. In all, $1.6 billion in federal grant money is headed to transit agencies, territories, and states across the country to invest in 150 bus fleets and facilities. Funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, more than 1,100 of those vehicles will use zero-emissions technology, which helps meet the president’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
This year’s funding alone will nearly double the number of no-emission transit buses on America’s roadways. For the first time, five percent of low- and no-emission bus funding will be used to train transit workers — including those working at RTA — on how to maintain and operate new clean bus technology.
“With today’s awards, we’re helping communities across America — in cities, suburbs, and rural areas alike — purchase 1,800 new buses and most of them are zero-emission,” said US. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This announcement means more good jobs for people across the country, cleaner air in our communities and more affordable and reliable options to help people get to where they need to go.”
This isn’t the first federal grant that RTA has received to build a more eco-friendly fleet. Just a few months ago, the Agency netted a $8.7 million grant to build the hydrogen fueling stations at its Riverside and Hemet facilities to power its future fleet.
As part of the announcement Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation also awarded RTA a second grant worth $1.6 million for the purchase and installation of solar panels at its Riverside and Hemet facilities, a move that will go a long way in reducing electricity costs and promoting a more environmentally friendly workplace.
Longtime transit advocate Keith White was remembered during a ceremony Friday in Eastvale when several Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) officials dedicated a memorial plaque and bus stop in his honor.
Nearly 20 people attended the ceremony at the bus stop off Limonite Avenue, just east of Hamner Avenue to honor White, who passed away in October after he was hospitalized for a heart attack. One of the people attending was RTA Chairman of the Board Zak Schwank who said Keith was not just a customer; he was part of the RTA family.
“From Board members to coach operators, Keith seemed to know everyone’s name,” Schwank said. “He always seemed to have something positive to say about what we were doing both on and off the streets. Always a smiling face, always thoughtful, Keith was such a big part of RTA, and he will be missed.”
For more than 20 years, Keith was a mainstay at RTA Board meetings and a leading member of RTA’s Customer Advocacy Group. He was also a founding member of the Northwest Transportation NOW chapter, a public advocacy group that serves Corona, Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Norco and Temescal Valley.
White had a driver’s license and access to a vehicle, but he chose to ride the bus instead. He seemed to gravitate to public transportation, not just the service, but the men and women who operated the buses and worked behind the scenes. Whether it was a trip to church, work or a KOLA 99.9 prize giveaway, Keith was proud to ride RTA buses — often several during the same day — to get where he needed to go.
The memorial was spearheaded by Corona City Councilmember Jim Steiner and Eastvale City Councilmember Jocelyn Yow, both of whom also sit on the RTA Board of Directors.
Steiner, who also attended the ceremony, said White’s interests weren’t limited to his home town of Eastvale. “He genuinely cared about transit service across Riverside County. And it showed in what he did,” Steiner said. “RTA salutes Keith for being a true friend of the Agency, his unwavering dedication, and determination to helping RTA be the best it can be.”
Yow said the Keith White Memorial Bus Stop will serve as a permanent reminder of his love for his community. “Keith was by far our most ardent supporter,” Yow said. “He was a dedicated champion for our causes both on the streets and inside our buses.”
Temecula City Councilmember Unanimously Elected New Board Chair
The Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) Board members have unanimously selected Temecula City Councilmember Zak Schwank to lead the RTA Board of Directors for 2022.
As chair, Schwank will be responsible for leading the Board in setting policy, guiding Agency priorities, conducting the Agency’s Board meetings and representing the Agency during public events. Schwank, who has been on the Board since 2019 and served as vice chair during 2021, fills the position most recently held by Hemet City Councilmember Linda Krupa.
“I am honored to be selected by my fellow Board members for this important position,” Schwank said. “RTA is working hard to recover from the challenges of the past few years and I’m thrilled to be part of this important chapter in our history. This is truly an exciting time to be a bus rider.”
Exciting indeed. Over the next year or so, RTA is focused on kicking off a microtransit program in the Hemet-San Jacinto area, opening a new transit center in Riverside, and continuing programs to offer free rides to youth and college students. Much of the Agency’s efforts will be spent regrowing ridership in the wake of the pandemic.
“We are pushing hard to give people more reasons than ever to ride the bus,” Schwank said. “We are more motivated than ever to propel this Agency forward into a brighter future, to make good on our unwavering pledge to be the best transit system in the business.”
In addition to his responsibilities on the Board of Directors, Schwank also serves on RTA’s Administration and Operations Committee and is a longstanding member of the Southwest chapter of Transportation NOW, a grassroots group dedicated to promoting public transportation in the region.
Schwank has lived in Temecula with his wife and children since 2001 and was elected to the Temecula City Council in 2018. Prior to being elected, he served on the Temecula Community Services Commission from 2012-2018. Schwank currently represents the cities of Menifee, Murrieta, and Temecula as a Regional Council Member of the Southern California Association of Governments. He enjoys hiking and biking with his family and is currently pursuing a degree in political science at California State University, San Marcos.
RTA Board members also voted City of Calimesa Mayor Pro Tem Linda Molina as vice chair and Canyon Lake Mayor Jeremy Smith as second vice chair.
WTS cites RTA’s mission of advancing women in the transit industry
The Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) has long been a champion of recruiting, retaining and advancing women in the transit industry. Now the Agency has a regional award to prove it.
The Inland Empire chapter of Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS), an international organization that promotes female leadership in the transportation industry, has recognized RTA with an Employer of the Year Award. The award goes to RTA for its focus on empowering and engaging women whether they are driving the buses or serving in executive roles.
“RTA has worked hard to create a workplace culture that celebrates diversity and provides opportunities for women to thrive in their careers,” said RTA Chief Executive Officer Larry Rubio. “I am so proud of the women in this industry who are doing extraordinary things and keeping this complex business of public transit moving.”
Over the past 10 years, RTA has more than quadrupled the number of women serving in executive positions with plenty more in management roles. In the past year alone, four women have been promoted to management or executive positions. None more significant than the recent advancement of Kristin Warsinski who was unanimously chosen by Board members this fall to be RTA’s next chief executive officer, filling a position held by Rubio who has had the title since 2001.
Women are certainly having a high impact at RTA. In fact, women either manage or direct operations, human resources, contract operations, finance, procurement and planning departments. Plus the number of female coach operators has grown from 43 percent a decade ago to nearly 50 percent today.
In 2019, RTA welcomed its first female maintenance supervisor and the number of female servicers who ensure buses are cleaned, fueled and ready for the day, has climbed from just one a decade ago to eight today, an increase of 700 percent. The Agency’s executive team, which is comprised of 11 members, has changed drastically over the years to include more women. Ten years ago, only one person in the group was female. Now five members, or 45 percent are female.
One of them is Chief Administrative Services Officer Laura Camacho, who has overseen RTA’s human resources department for the past 20 years. Camacho has also benefitted from RTA paying some of her bachelor’s and all of her master’s degree to help advance her career.
“RTA is thrilled to be part of an effort to build a gender diverse workforce where people feel valued,” Camacho said. “There’s no doubt that when we have women in the workforce serving in a variety of roles, we are putting ourselves in a position to provide a great experience for our diverse group of customers, empower and engage our workforce and be a sustainable business for the long haul.”
Female leadership isn’t limited to staff. RTA’s governing board, which is comprised of 22 elected officials from 18 cities and four members of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, has been female-led for four of the past five years. Current Chair Linda Krupa served in both 2017 and 2021 and previous Chair Bridgette Moore served from 2018 to 2020. Both women have helped the Agency safely steer through the financial challenges of the pandemic and introduce a variety of ambitious programs including mobile ticketing and free rides for youth and college students.
“This award is a testament to the work RTA does every day to provide a service that not only focuses on customer service, but also celebrates the people who are delivering the service,” Krupa said. “RTA wants to reflect the community it serves and that means committing to a more diverse and inclusive workplace.”
The award comes during a significant period for RTA which is working hard to rebound from the pandemic and give its customers more reasons to ride the bus. Over the next few years, RTA is expected to kick off a microtransit pilot program in the Hemet-San Jacinto area, create new transit centers in Riverside and Hemet, and welcome a new fleet of clean-air buses.
Jillian Guizado, who is the president of the local WTS chapter, said the award couldn’t have come at a better time. “RTA deserves a lot of credit for advancing women in the transportation industry,” Guizado said. “With their focus on equality, the recent appointment of a female CEO, and their ongoing commitment to community, RTA is certainly leading the charge in how business should be done.”
Riverside County native Kristin Warsinski takes leadership of the Agency
Kristin Warsinski will be Riverside Transit Agency’s (RTA) new chief executive officer, filling a position currently held by Larry Rubio who has held the title since 2001.
The RTA Board of Directors unanimously approved Warsinski as the Agency’s new leader during their meeting on October 28.
Warsinski officially assumes her new role on December 31.
Warsinski will take leadership of an organization that looks to rebound from the pandemic by building ridership, continuing to make good use of taxpayer dollars, focusing on equitable service and fostering healthy bonds with the community. Several ambitious projects are already in the works, including the creation of a transit hub in Riverside, the launch of microtransit service in San Jacinto and Hemet, and the transition to a zero-emission bus fleet.
“I am truly honored and humbled to lead the best transit agency in the nation,” Warsinski said. “RTA has a proud history of serving the community and providing world-class transportation for the people of Riverside County. I look forward to building on that momentum and partnering with our talented employees and community partners to provide an exceptional service that our customers can be proud of in the weeks, months and years ahead.”
A Riverside County native, Warsinski has more than a decade of service in the public transit industry. As RTA’s director of planning, she oversaw the development of RTA’s routes and schedules, short-range transit plans, and grant applications from federal, state and local sources. Warsinski also spearheaded RTA’s Zero-Emission Bus Rollout Plan, an ambitious blueprint for converting RTA’s entire fleet to hydrogen-powered buses. She also led the Agency through the Transportation Development Act and Federal Transportation Administration triennial audits, both of which resulted in perfect reviews, ensuring the Agency’s ongoing competitiveness in acquiring future grant money.
Since her arrival to RTA more than six years ago, Warsinski has also served as grants manager and planning and programming specialist. Prior to RTA, she held various administrative positions with the City of Beaumont. She has a master’s degree in public administration from California Baptist University and a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from UC Irvine.
Public service runs in her family. In fact, Warsinski is the second-generation daughter of a career city government executive — something that she credits for helping familiarize her with the innerworkings of the public sector, the fine art of business management and the importance of having empathy for constituents. “I am excited to keep the Agency’s mission alive, its core values in the forefront and its employees challenged, focused and inspired,” she said. “I will work tirelessly to maximize our success as we enter a future ripe with possibility.”
Linda Krupa, Hemet City Councilmember and Chair of the RTA Board of Directors, said Warsinski will bring a fresh perspective and a unique level of expertise to the Agency.
“Kristin Warsinski brings the necessary leadership experience and skills to guide and implement RTA’s service goals for years to come,” Krupa said. “This is an exciting time for public transportation as we all work to recover from the pandemic and look to rebuild, inspire and give our customers more reasons to ride the bus.”