Throughout the month of February, COMTO KC will be highlighting the achievements of African Americans in transportation. Join us in celebrating Black History Month and the individuals who have made, and continue making, great strides in improving our industry.
Today we celebrate Carmen Turner, the first African American woman to lead a major transit agency when she became general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
Turner worked as a civil rights officer for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Urban Mass Transportation Administration (now the Federal Transit Administration) until 1976, when she was named acting director of USDOT’s Office of Civil Rights. In 1977, Turner left USDOT to work at WMATA as its chief of administration. With her promotion to general manger six years later, Turner was running one of the nation’s largest transit systems, and received widespread praise for managing and lobbying for the relatively young agency.
In 1989, the American Public Transit Association (now the American Public Transportation Association, or APTA) named turner Transit Manager of the Year, following its recognition of WMATA as the nation’s best rail and bus system the previous year. Throughout her time as general manager of WMATA, Turner oversaw a 40 percent expansion in the Metrorail service and brought annual ridership up to nearly 70 million passengers. The height of Turner’s career came in 1990, when Turner’s work led Congress to authorize $1.3 billion to complete all 103 miles of the planned Metrorail service.
Following Turner’s passing in 1992, WMATA named its maintenance and training facility in Hyattsville, Maryland after her in recognition of Turner’s contributions while leading the agency.