The 2024 Sharon D. Banks Award recipient is Nathaniel P. Ford, Sr., chief executive officer of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Sharon D. Banks Award is a biennial award established in memory of Sharon D. Banks, the former general manager of AC Transit in Oakland, Calif., and chair of the TRB Executive Committee in 1998. She passed away in 1999. The award recognizes innovative and successful leadership in people-oriented initiatives in transportation, sustained over an extended period, that exemplify Banks’ ideals of humanity and service. The award will be presented on January 10, 2024, during the chair’s plenary session portion of the TRB Annual Meeting, January 7-11, 2024, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
Ford is recognized for putting the passengers, the employees, and the communities he serves first in all that he does. He is acknowledged for his visionary and innovative leadership driven by an innate desire to make public transportation work efficiently for people who ride, regardless of the mode, and is a leading advocate for how autonomous vehicles (AV) and other advances can be used to improve the quality of life for travelers throughout the nation.
Ford is an award-winning transportation expert and leading advocate for multimodal and holistic transportation modes that improve the quality of life for the communities he lives and works in. He began his career at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York, before he went on to become CEO of two of the 10 largest transportation authorities in the U.S. – the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) in California, and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) in Georgia.
For the past decade, Ford has led the JTA as its CEO. During that time, the organization has been recognized with many individual and agency awards for leadership, innovation, and championing change. Although these recognitions vary in scope, they often reflect the tremendous work Ford and the JTA have taken to improve the quality of life of the greater Jacksonville and Northeast Florida community. Notable recognitions include the Honorable Ray LaHood Award from the Women’s Transportation Seminar of Northeast Florida in 2022, the “2020 Outstanding Public Transportation Manager” by American Public Transportation Association, the “Thought Leader” by the Eno Center for Transportation in 2019, and the “White House Champion of Change in Transportation” by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2016.
During his first trip to Jacksonville, Ford noted several passengers who spent hours waiting for a bus at stops without amenities or coverage from Florida’s blistering heat. Ford’s observations resulted in JTA’s Route Optimization Initiative, that made riding the bus more convenient for people dependent on public transit while enticing more choice ridership to hop on board.
Under Ford’s leadership, JTA joined forces with the Mayor’s Downtown Homeless Task Force, the Salvation Army, Changing Homelessness, the Clara White Mission, and Sulzbacher Village for women in transition to help those in need by opening an Urban Rest Stop. Ford fostered a humanity and service team atmosphere that resulted in JTA and its employees opening Career Closets, which allows men and women access to professional and business clothing for job interviews; partnering with Farm Share and the Food Insecurity Task Force, and opening a clothing and supplies closet for children and their families in one of Jacksonville’s most underserved neighborhoods.
Examples of Ford’s leadership in people-oriented initiatives during the pandemic include deploying autonomous shuttles in support of the lifesaving operations at the Mayo Clinic, partnering with local restaurants to provide thousands of meals for essential medical and transportation workers, and launching Wellness on Wheels. This innovative, award-winning initiative helped more than 12,000 people who were transit dependent receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
Ford is a former member of the TRB’s Transit Research Analysis Committee, Transit Cooperative Research Program Oversight and Project Selection Committee, Subcommittee on Planning and Policy Review, Division Committee, and Executive Committee, which he chaired in 2022. He also served as chair of the American Public Transportation Association.
Actively involved in his community, Ford serves on various boards and committees, including the Advisory Board of Jacksonville University’s Davis College of Business, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, and Goodwill Industries of Northeast Florida, which he chairs. Ford received an Executive MBA from Jacksonville University’s Davis School of Business. He also has a bachelor’s degree in applied science in organizational leadership from Mercer University and is a certified Master Executive Coach. He graduated from the Executive Development Consortium Program at Emory University and has completed executive training at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Learn more about TRB here.