Leslie S. Richards is the CEO and 11th General Manager of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the sixth largest public transportation agency in the U.S. with a budget of more than $2 billion and a vast network of 9,500 employees. The 50-year-old legacy agency is more than a transit service; it is the way the five million residents across the Greater Philadelphia region connect to each other. Today, SEPTA operates across six transportation modes and has 2,800 vehicles in service, 285 subway and rail stations, 13,000 bus and trolley stops, and 150 routes covering over 2,200 square miles.
Under her leadership, SEPTA moved swiftly to protect the health and safety of its employees and riders during the COVID-19 pandemic, while providing essential services to those who needed it most. Planning for the future, Richards is ensuring that SEPTA is supporting the region in its recovery and adapting to meet the changing needs of riders, while evaluating every aspect of the business with an eye toward diversity, equity and inclusive growth. To that end, in partnership with SEPTA’s Board of Directors, Richards has implemented a fare restructuring plan that supports the needs of the region’s diverse communities, overseen the development of a new five-year strategic plan for the agency, and embarked on an extensive campaign to create a more equitable workplace and transit system for everyone. In recognition of this important work, Richards was a Gold Winner of the 2020 Stevie Award for Public Service Hero of the Year and a Silver Winner for Most Valuable Corporate Response.
Prior to joining SEPTA, Richards served as the first woman secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), one of the largest and most innovative transportation agencies in the U.S. Richards left a lasting mark on the department by ensuring the long-term success of Pennsylvania’s multimodal transportation needs through sustainable infrastructure and innovative investments. She worked to improve efficiencies to meet funding challenges, broaden the planning and project development process to consider input from all stakeholders through the collaborative PennDOT Connects initiative, and build a diversified workforce that is prepared to solve 21st century transportation challenges.
A recognized leader in transportation and planning, Richards currently serves on the Philadelphia Regional Recharge and Recovery Task Force, the America Public Transportation Association (APTA) Board of Directors, and the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for the Commuter Rail Coalition (CRC). Richards was named vice chairman of the 2019 Transportation Research Board (TRB) Executive Committee and served as chair of the Active Transportation Council of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). She also previously served as the first female Chair of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, chair of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, and as a member of the SEPTA Board.
Richards has extensive leadership experience in the strategic planning and management of transportation projects both in her private-sector work in the planning and engineering fields over the past two decades, in addition to her work in state and local government. She previously served as the vice chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, where she led the transportation and planning initiatives for the third-largest county in the Commonwealth. Prior to being elected Commissioner, Richards was chair of the Whitemarsh Township Board of Supervisors.
Throughout her career, Richards has been a mentor and staunch advocate for women and diversity in transportation and government and has been recognized for her leadership in the industry and commitment to public service. She received the prestigious Women in Transportation (WTS) International Woman of the Year Award for 2018, as well as the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials’ (COMTO) 2018 Celebrating Women Who Move the Nation award, the Philadelphia Business Journal 2017 Women of Distinction award and City and State PA’s 2018 Above and Beyond Distinguished Service award, the 2020 Railway Age Women in Rail award, among other notable honors. While serving as Secretary, Richards received the Villanova Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Justice Done Award, which names her as an ally in the fight to end sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in Pennsylvania.
Prior to her public service, she worked in the private sector as a senior project manager for environmental and civil engineering firms. Richards earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and urban studies from Brown University, and a master’s degree in regional planning from the University of Pennsylvania. She teaches a studio class at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design. Richards is a lifelong Pennsylvania resident and lives with her husband in Philadelphia.