As Metro has slowed down its search for a new general manager, local officials are asking the transit system's board to consider a new way of dealing with financial problems, reliability issues and safety. In March, Metro's board suspended its search for a new general manager amid disagreements between board members and news that Metro hadn't yet submitted the required paperwork to the federal government for $400 million in reimbursements for system upgrades. Now, many are calling for the system's new general manager to take charge of Metro's apparent accounting issues in addition to improving service.
"The term 'turnaround specialist' has been used by some to describe what is needed and we agree that a different type of leader for the system is necessary," wrote District 16 Del. Marc Korman and Prince George's County Del. Erek Barron this week. "WMATA needs a leader who can walk and chew gum at the same time and who will be able to restore fiscal management while addressing the other major issues before the system — from safety to service."
Korman, who represents Bethesda, and Barron started a WMATA-Metro Work Group in Annapolis during the legislative session with the goal of increasing and improving oversight of the transit system.
The two sent the letter on Tuesday to Metro Board Chair Mortimer Downey.
They asked Downey to pick a new general manager capable of picking experienced assistant general managers "not wedded to the status quo."
Last week, County Councilmember Roger Berliner made similar comments in a discussion with Kathy Porter, who represents Montgomery County on the Metro Board.
"It isn't just a financial expert. It isn't a safety expert. It's we have to change the culture of the institution in a deep dive," Berliner said last Friday. "I need a large organization expert who knows how to shake things up."
Porter said she agreed while also pointing out the challenge of responding to governments in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.
"You can't have someone who doesn't see creating those relationships and nurturing those relationships as being part of their job," Porter said.
"The new GM/CEO and their team must be committed to necessary reform and, furthermore, the new team must be empowered by the Board to undertake those efforts," Korman and Barron wrote in their letter. "The Board must also be engaged in the push for needed change."
During the General Assembly, Korman's bill to require a detailed ridership study of Metro in Maryland passed. It was set to be signed into law this week by Gov. Larry Hogan before being postponed due to the unrest in Baltimore.
Meanwhile, local congressional lawmakers are fighting a Republican budget proposal that would cut a $150 million federal contribution to Metro in half.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen on Wednesday issued a joint statement with other members of the House from around the region:
Providing anything less than the federal commitment of $150 million would jeopardize rider safety and the successful partnership with Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia to fund the purchase of new rail cars and vital safety improvements throughout the system in response to NTSB and FTA recommendations. The proposed reduction would only exacerbate the operations and safety issues that our delegation has been working with Metro to resolve.
…It would be shortsighted for Congress to threaten to unravel this partnership given the federal government's unique relationship with and responsibility to Metro. Nearly 40% of rush-hour riders are federal employees, and half of all Metro stations are located on federal property. Metro is also a critical component of the National Capital Region's emergency response system.
Flickr photo by ChrisDag