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Politicsby Fern Shen8:11 pmApr 20, 20150

Robert Smith, Maryland MTA chief, is quietly ousted

BREW EXCLUSIVE: From the office of Hogan’s new transportation secretary, “no comment” as Smith departs troubled agency

Above: Robert Smith’s final day at the MTA was Friday.

Maryland Transit Administration CEO Robert L. Smith, a holdover from the Martin O’Malley administration whose agency has been a source of criticism and complaints for years, has left the job, The Brew has confirmed.

There was “no comment” about the circumstances of Smith’s departure from the office of the new transportation secretary.

“While this is a personnel matter and I can’t discuss it in detail, I can tell you that Robert Smith’s last day was Friday, April 17,” said Erin Henson, director of public affairs for the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Henson said that Senior Deputy Administrator Ron Barnes will be assuming Smith’s responsibilities “until a new MTA Administrator is named in the coming weeks.”

Smith’s boss at MDOT – Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn appointed by Republican Governor Larry Hogan in January – has been critical of the MTA, in particular its Baltimore-area bus system.

Widely assailed by transit users for late buses, badly-designed routes and overall poor service, the system was supposed to get an overhaul through a process called the Bus Network Improvement Project.

Launched in 2013, the project still has not produced the action plan that was to be completed a year ago. Amid bitter complaints about poor bus service, Smith defended the MTA in an essay published last November in The Brew.

Hot Issues

The change in MTA leadership is taking place as Secretary Rahn and Gov. Hogan contemplate a number of politically-sensitive transit issues, chief among them the fate of the Red and Purple Line projects in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs.

The Hogan administration has questioned the need for the light-rail projects, whose total estimated cost exceeds $5 billion.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, along with federal elected officials, have rallied to advocate for the projects, saying they will improve the quality of life and create jobs.

In and Out, Rinse, Repeat

For outgoing MTA boss Smith, the experience of being ousted by the changing of the guard in Annapolis is a familiar one – it happened to him once before.

After a nine-month national search, Smith was brought in to head the MTA in June 2002, late in the administration of Gov. Parris Glendening. (The appointment was driven by a safety and public relations crisis as some 18 MTA buses lost their rear wheels while in service.)

By October 2004, Republican Robert Ehrlich was in the governor’s mansion and Smith was out.

When a Democrat returned to office, so did Smith. Gov. Martin O’Malley brought him back in May 2013.

A career transportation bureaucrat, Smith is no stranger to the shifting political winds of government service.

He has migrated to many places to fill many jobs. Among them as general manager for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Suburban services as well as the general manager for Jefferson County, Ala., and Myrtle Beach, S.C.

He also has served as vice president of bus operations at the Chicago Transit Authority and worked in the private sector.

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