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Women in TransitTech: Maria Arce.

In honor of International Women’s Day and throughout the month of March, Via is proud to profile a number of changemakers driving real innovation in their communities. Enjoy the story below, and then check out the rest of the series.

Via Transportation •
Challenging the status quo takes diligence, determination, and vision — especially when it comes to an industry that hasn’t seen a seismic shift since the automobile was invented. And, as it turns out, it’s often women who choose to challenge these norms. In honor of International Women’s Day and throughout the month of March, Via is proud to profile a number of changemakers driving real innovation in their communities and inspiring their peers. Enjoy the story below, and then check out the rest of the series here.

Maria Arce is the Chief Communications Officer at Tri Delta Transit, which provides over 2 million trips each year to a population of over 315,000 residents in Eastern Contra Costa County, California. Maria started with the agency just two years ago as a Manager of Customer Service and Marketing and was quickly promoted to her current position. Maria earned a Masters of Arts in English from California State University, East Bay. She then pursued teaching for more than 5 years, working with students from kindergarten to college.

Her current position as Chief Communications Officer allows her to work closely with the public, while launching new programs such as Tri MyRide — an innovative on-demand pilot. While not at work, Maria can be found with her two teenage children hiking, biking, or camping throughout California.

What did 10-year-old Maria want to be when she grew up? How did you evolve from there to your current position in transportation?   Ten-year-old me wanted to be an author. This led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in literature and a graduate degree in English. I went on to teach English, public speaking, and composition at the local junior college, which led me to a strong interest in working with the public, doing outreach, and advocating for others. Transit was a natural fit. 

What do you think are the most important qualities in a leader? Are there any leaders in particular you look up to? I believe the most important quality in a leader is vision. A strong leader sees the opportunities and possibilities in situations. This vision can bring enthusiasm and energy to an organization, getting staff fired up to act.   I am inspired by the CEO of Tri Delta Transit, Jeanne Krieg. When faced with opportunities and transit innovations, she identifies the benefits and makes sure her staff is supported to make this vision come to life.  

What are the big transit challenges in your community that your team is solving with TransitTech?  Transit deserts are a concern in our suburban community. With the expanse of home developments not easily accessible by large fixed route buses, there are some communities that have too far to travel for the nearest bus stop  Transit technology has helped meet that concern. By using smaller vehicles that interface with on-demand technology, Tri Delta Transit can reach passengers that aren’t near a traditional bus stop. 

In your view, what’s the biggest challenge the transportation industry as a whole will have to tackle in the next 2-5 years? Evolution and flexibility. With so many technological innovations, there is an expectation that public transportation will follow suit. If I can order lunch on my phone, track it, and get it in less than an hour, I should be able to do the same thing with the bus. Public transportation needs to continue to look for opportunities to evolve service to meet these expectations and use the technological advancements available to them. This begins with rethinking and reimagining the framework of public transportation.

Tell us about a defining moment in your professional life that has helped guide you on your path. Our passengers define my professional life. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a passenger reached out to me. She wanted to make masks for our drivers. I was grateful for her offer, but explained we had over 160 drivers and that would be a lot of masks. She went on to tell me what a wonderful impact our on-demand service had on her life. As someone sight-impaired and unable to drive, our service meant the difference between freedom and isolation, employment and unemployment. She made over 200 masks for our organization. My desire to do the best I can for our passengers and community guide my professional life.   

And finally, what drives you? (Pun intended!) My curiosity drives me, and a goal to always do better and be better. I always question systems in place; not to find fault but to fully understand. This often leads me down a path of asking why — why can’t we do it this way, why have we not considered this option.