Roger Berliner’s first meeting as chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) included a talk from the person leading the agency that he wants to focus on most in the next year.
Paul Wiedefeld, appointed as general manager of Metro in November, addressed the group of elected officials from more than a dozen area counties and cities Wednesday during its monthly meeting in Washington, D.C.
Berliner, who represents Bethesda, Chevy Chase, North Bethesda, Potomac and Poolesville as the county’s District 1 council member, has long spoken of the need to improve Metro’s reliability and reexamine its governing structure, but mostly as it relates to Montgomery County commuters and other transit users.
As chairman of the COG board for the next year, he said he plans to take that discussion to a regional level.
“Our job as elected officials is really to think bigger. It isn’t to pretend we are the [general manager] and micromanage them,” Berliner said Tuesday. “It is how can our community support Metro going forward, warts and all, because Metro cannot fail?”
Berliner proposed a forum on Metro to be hosted in March by COG and the Greater Washington Board of Trade on the occasion of Metro’s 40th anniversary. He plans to bring in speakers from around the country to talk about transit issues and discuss the prospect of what Metro might look like 40 years from now.
“Are we building toward the future or are we replicating the past, only with a ribbon around it?” Berliner said.
He expects COG to formulate a list of recommendations for Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., leaders—the local jurisdictions that help fund the system—that could include suggestions for changing the interstate compact used to govern the system.
Recommendations may also include putting performance standards on Metro, similar to what Maryland utility regulators have done to Pepco, that could tie funding to customer satisfaction and safety performance.
In his opening statement Wednesday upon being chosen as chairman of the COG board, Berliner also said he’d like to create a friendlier atmosphere between local jurisdictions when it comes to economic development.
Berliner will join the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on a trade trip in February to Cuba and hopes to lead a COG trade trip in the summer, perhaps to Canada.
COG is also applying to join the Global Cities Initiative, a project from the Brookings Institution aimed at getting U.S. metropolitan areas to work more collaboratively when it comes to attracting foreign businesses.
“These are the initial steps of trying to change a deeply entrenched culture of competition,” Berliner said. “I’m hoping that will help shift our consciousness, the way we think about ourselves and the way we market ourselves. People in China don’t know Montgomery County. But if you say, ‘Greater Washington,’ that gets a different reaction.”