Former consultant takes the wheel at Trailways

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Photo courtesy Trailways Transportation System

Sheila Ryba stepped into her role as president and CEO of Fairfax-based Trailways Transportation System in March with respect for the bus company’s history and an eye toward the future. “Trailways had a great name, a great brand and a great reputation. To be able to take it to the next level is quite a challenge but also quite a lot of fun,” she says.

The company is solidifying its strategic plan. “We are re-evaluating now, talking about what our goals look like,” she says. “I’m coming in as a new CEO with an organization that has been around for a long time. I hope I can bring fresh ideas and perspectives to how Trailways is currently operating and will be operating in the future.”

Before accepting the position, Ryba owned a consulting firm in Durham, N.C., specializing in business development, lobbying, fund development and strategic planning. She also had led several nonprofit organizations, including the John Avery Boys & Girls Club in Durham and the San Diego County (California) chapter of the American Heart Association.

The Trailways position offered Ryba an opportunity to work in a for-profit environment. “It also gave me the opportunity to continue to grow and learn things, and that’s important to me,” she says. “Transportation has always been an interest of mine. It’s an economic generator. It plays a vital role in the growth of cities and communities.”

Trailways, founded in 1936 in Chicago, will celebrate its 80th anniversary next February. In the early days, the company provided bus service  to rural areas that had limited means of transportation. Today it serves more than 1,000 destinations through North America and parts of Europe, carrying more than 16 million passengers annually. It is also a charter bus company as well.

Trailways buses actually are operated by 70 independently owned and operated motorcoach companies, which pay licenses to use the name in North America and Europe. Trailways does not disclose its revenue figures.

All of the companies under the Trailways umbrella are safety certified by the Department of Defense. “There are over 4,000 motorcoach companies around the country, but only 400-plus are DOD safety certified,” Ryba says. “We are the safest motorcoach company on the road. We don’t take just any bus company. We really take a look at the organization’s safety record, how they are operating their business and see if it’s a good fit for us.”

Ryba’s goal for the company is straightforward. “I would like for Trailways to be the leader in the bus and travel industry in all areas, from technology to safety,” she says. “It all starts with providing the best experience possible. A lot of people prefer not to fly, and we are an affordable option. I think more and more people are turning to the bus industry.”

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