Leslie S. Richards is someone you might run into while taking SEPTA. She rides daily.
The transportation authority’s new general manager, who succeeded Jeffrey Knueppel in the role earlier this month, takes it from her Montgomery County home and to teach an increasingly popular course at the University of Pennsylvania. She took it to see the “Notorious RBG” exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History on a recent weekend, too.
Richards, the second woman to serve in the position, takes her job very seriously. But, with a storied resumé that includes Montgomery County commissioner, chair of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, and PennDot secretary — she still had never quite pictured herself in the corner office where City Hall serves as a prominent backdrop.
“I think I can do a lot of the work that I was doing before,” she said, “but in a different way, and having a real, direct impact on the communities that we serve."
Richards, who comes from a planning background, is passionate about a lot of things. She cares about equity and accessibility, community engagement, easing congestion, as well as the environment and sustainability. She’s reading The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s biography of New York’s controversial master builder, Robert Moses — for fun.
“The irony of it is I believe it was probably assigned while I was in grad school, and I probably looked at it and I was like, ‘I’m not reading that,' " she joked, concerning its more than 1,300 pages.
When SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. “Pat” Deon Sr., who is also a turnpike commissioner, approached her about the manager job, she kept her interests in mind, weighed the decision against a job she loved, and took it on — “embarrassed” that she hadn’t seen the opportunity before.
She starts with a lot on her plate. There are growing costs with the SEPTA Key, declining bus ridership and a redesign, debate over transfers, an FBI probe, trolley modernization, a rail extension into King of Prussia, and, of course, funding concerns.
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