Katharine Kelleman
Katharine Kelleman

We catch up with public transit powerhouse Katharine Kelleman, who became CEO of Port Authority of Allegheny County in January. Kelleman previously worked with Tampa’s transit authority where she grew ridership by more than 20 percent, adopted the OneBusAway technology, expanded public-private partnerships with MegaBus and Coast Bike Share, and launched a regional fare program.

A resident of Upper St. Clair, Katharine also serves on the board of the American Public Transit Association. We’re glad she’s here.

What upcoming events are you excited to attend?

Pittsburgh will be hosting Rail~Volution for the first time ever in October. It’s an annual conference that is about so much more than what the name suggests. It’s a conference where many of the thought-leaders in public transit get together to discuss their experiences, what they’ve learned and the best practices for turning America’s cities and regions into healthy, economically vibrant, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable communities. Public transit plays a much bigger role in that than most people would imagine.

Best part of your new job?

Living in America’s most livable city and getting to work with so many wonderful people.

What’s your big idea for public transportation in Pittsburgh?

My “big idea” for public transportation in Allegheny County is really about getting back to basics: Providing fast, reliable, safe and friendly service. My goals for Fiscal Year 2019 are to deliver an excellent customer experience; develop a financial sustainability plan, a safety program and an employee engagement program; and improve our communication to the public.

Katharine Kelleman
Katharine Kelleman (middle) chats with Port Authority Board members Ann Ogoreuc (left) and Stephanie Turman at the 2018 Spirit of King Awards at the Kingsley Association.

What would you like your legacy in Pittsburgh to be?

Allegheny County can be the place that really redefines public transit in the 21st Century, and I want other transit agencies to look to us as a model for how a public transit agency can support livable communities.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your new position?

There are not enough hours in the day.

What are the greatest opportunities you see for public transportation in Pittsburgh?

Port Authority has unmet demand for our services, which is indicative of a region ready to embrace public transit and move beyond the personal automobile.

What significant differences and similarities have you experienced working in your field in Tampa and Pittsburgh?

The work that goes into serving the public is the same as I experienced when I worked in Tampa. It’s a big, legacy system like I observed when I worked in Baltimore, and we have a robust, dynamic city that wants access to convenient public transit, like I witnessed when I worked in Dallas.

What is the one thing that would surprise Pittsburghers most about you?

Even though I’ve not previously lived in Pennsylvania, my great grandparents lived in Washington County and my husband’s family lives outside of Harrisburg.

What song in your playlist is on endless repeat?

My current Pandora channel is set to Melody Gardot radio.

Katharine Kelleman
Port Authority CEO Katharine Kelleman.

Where do you always take out-of-town visitors?

To the Mon Incline to see that million-dollar view, and to the Strip District.

Last photo you took on your phone?
My kids at a family wedding.

What’s your Pittsburgh comfort food?

Mineo’s pizza.

Iconic Pittsburgh place you can’t wait to visit?

I moved here after football season, so I’ve yet to visit Heinz Field, but I’m looking forward to it!

At what Pittsburgh restaurant do you always order dessert?

Anywhere that has burnt almond tort.

Besides the essentials, what do you always carry with you?

Ice Breakers Frost Mints.

It’s Thursday happy hour: Where are you?

Still at work.

Favorite Pittsburgh athlete, living or dead?

The Bus, Jerome Bettis.

Fill in the blank: My car has logged the most hours on _____ road, street or highway.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike going to and from Harrisburg.

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Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. Musically, she is in a band called The Garment District and is a founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.