Joi Dean: "I believe that we can always figure out a solution to things"

Joi Dean, CEO of the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has been appointed second vice president of IBTTA for 2024. Adam Hill finds out about what drives her to leave a legacy
Charging, Tolling & Road Pricing / December 11, 2023
Joi Dean tolling road user charging IBTTA
Dean: 'I don't have a choice but to be optimistic'

Joi Dean, CEO of the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority (RMTA), worked at the attorney general's office in New Jersey before moving to Virginia in 2012.

She also had her own political consulting company, handling government affairs, which Dean describes as “strategic positioning of people that need resources before those who could grant them those resources”. 

This legal and consulting background made her a great choice to act as consultant chief of staff to the then-new CEO of RMTA (or simply RMA as it was then). “One of my strong suits is really relationship building,” Dean says.

RMTA, in its time, has managed and operated parking decks, a railway station – and even a baseball stadium – but tolling is its main business, with a bridge and two expressways, one of which dates from the 1960s. “Transportation is pretty much our bread and butter,” Dean explains. “There are also opportunities for us to do some other things for our jurisdictional partners with regard to roadways and increasing potential toll roads in the area.”


Calm under pressure


The organisation’s previous CEO and chairman had both been with the agency for around a quarter of a century so, when Dean arrived, establishing the credentials of their replacements was crucial: “They were engaging in something that hadn't happened in a little over 20 years.”

When the new CEO moved to a new position in Washington DC, Dean was asked by the board to serve as interim CEO in April 2017, before a permanent appointment in August that year.

She has a board of 16, five from each of RMTA’s three jurisdictions, with one from the Commonwealth Transportation Board. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dean has a well-deserved reputation for being calm under pressure. “That doesn't mean I’m not concerned about certain things,” she laughs again. “But I just believe that we can always get to ‘yes,’ I believe that we can always figure out a solution to things.”

She has a strong sense of perspective: she has worked on tough legal cases, which means she is well aware that more serious things often happen outside of transportation. She tells her team: “Everybody's going home today, nobody's going to  jail. We're all going to go home, have dinner with our families, and we're going to come back tomorrow, and get back at it. Everything that we do is important - but perspective is a big part of how you lead and how you engage with people.”

She is full of praise for IBTTA. Having been in transportation for a relatively short period of time, Dean says: “I'm not of the belief that I know everything about tolling, and I probably never will. But the knowledge base that exists within the members of IBTTA is so broad and so vast and deep. The way that everyone embraces me in this collegial manner is something that I've never really been a part of.”

That’s not to say that lawyers don’t like each other, she insists with a smile. “But being a part of IBTTA has helped me to increase my knowledge about tolling while also allowing me to give back to the industry by serving on various committees and in helping to move the message of the importance of mobility forward.”


IBTTA as thought leaders


Road user charging (RUC) is one of the key debates in transportation at the moment. “I’ve really taken an interest in understanding RUC because I know it's the future,” says Dean. “One of the things that we've talked about, especially in the IBTTA government affairs committee, is how IBTTA can be thought leaders in this space - because we understand the technology, we have the intelligence, the knowledge, as things begin to unfold. The tolling industry could provide a great deal of thought leadership and work very collaboratively.”

Dean’s committee work is clearly important to her. “It's offered me a working knowledge of the industry. When I speak to my board, and I say to them, ‘The cost of doing business is going up’, I can point to my colleagues in Florida, or my colleagues in Texas, specifically to what's going on in the industry based on my relationship with my peers and information sharing.”

The board therefore understands what Dean’s presence within IBTTA brings to RMTA: “I'm very clear about what IBTTA does and what we're trying to accomplish as members, and in what value it brings to our organisation.”

For Dean personally, there is this sense of being part of something bigger too: “It’s about giving back and understanding how I can play a role in the growth of the organisation, and building upon the legacy of the organisation.”

As well as being the new second vice president, and serving on the government affairs committee, she is also co-chair of the DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) task force, which was set up after the killing of George Floyd. 

“We’ve been focused on race and ethnicity and we continue to build upon what we've started. And internally we've had conversations about how do we broaden the scope? Because there's more to this diversity thing. And to me that's one of the ways that I continue to give back, enabling the work of creating a diverse industry - not just from a race and ethnicity perspective, but from an age perspective.” She breaks into a laugh again: “I keep telling people I’m still a young professional, but I don't really fall into that category anymore! We have to bring in the next generation of transportation gurus and tolling gurus, and make sure there's somebody that can come behind me to take my seat, and that that person will likely be younger than me.”

Dean is a pleasure to talk to, with infectious good humour never far from the conversation. But she does not see herself – perhaps surprisingly - as particularly a ‘glass half-full’ person.

“I’m probably more ‘glass half-empty’,” she admits. “But I am optimistic and when I speak to people I tell them this: I don't have a choice but to be optimistic because I'm raising a seven-year-old little girl and I have to make sure that the world is a better place for her. And so whenever I feel challenged or discouraged about anything, I say: OK, let me let me pick myself up here and let's figure out how we can make things better. Because it's all about the legacy that we're going to leave behind. And, you know, from a personal perspective that happens to be my daughter - but that's the same thing that I believe from a professional perspective.”

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