Metro officials showed off their new hybrid-electric bus and bus repair shops during an almost three-hour tour ride Tuesday, but we also had a chance ask Richard Sarles, general manager and chief executive of the system, a few questions.
Here are some excerpts of from that chat:
As I was on my way to Metro headquarters today via the Red Line, I told a fellow rider I was coming to see the bigwig of Metro. I asked her what she’d ask you. Her answer: What’s the deal with the carpet?
A: We’re getting rid of it. It is too much to maintain. It is hard to maintain because people eat and drink on the trains and they’re not supposed to. They spill stuff. It gets sticky. And in bad weather it is not good. We’ll go with non-slip rubber floors in new rail cars.
Which Metro line do you take each day to get to work?
A: The Yellow from Pentagon City.
Do you ever take the bus?
A: Occasionally, to get to BWI. (He takes the Green Line to Greenbelt and then takes the B30 to BWI.)
It’s budget season. How are you working to balance the budget?
A: We’ve asked for $66 million from the area jurisdictions.
Are you going to get it?
A:We’re confident we’ll get a good portion of it. Virginia said they would put up their share. Maryland said it would, too. D.C. said increase.
How much will D.C. increase its portion by?
A: I can’t say. But I’m confident we will get a portion of it.
What other ideas are there for balancing the budget?
A: There are some one-shot deals out there. Like taking $30 million out of the capital budget and using it for preventive maintenance. But in the long term that’s not a good thing to do.
What’s another idea floating out there on the budget?
A: To sell the revenue stream of Metro’s parking garages.
Is that a good idea?
A; It solves a problem today but we would then lose the revenue stream going forward.
One of the ideas for cutting spending in the budget is to try to save $6 million by making some changes in Metro’s weekend service. Won’t the waits be longer? Why do that?
A: The wait may be a little longer at times, say five or 10 minutes.
You’re spending $89.3 million on new hybrid electric buses but the District’s Circulator buses are growing in popularity. What does that say about Metro’s bus system?
A: The Circulator is a nice operation. It’s set up to address the needs for visitors and it’s easy to understand. We try not to have competition on routes. Both have niches. Metro serves commuters; the Circulator is more oriented to visitors.
The 7000 series rail cars that Metro is going to use for the Dulles rail line. What’s happening with those?
A: We’ve awarded a $750 million contract to Kawasaki for 300 cars that will replace the 1000 series — the oldest series of rail cars. They’ll be made in Lincoln, Neb. We’re getting input from customers on interior colors, where do they want to hold on it – seats or handholds if they’re standing, things like that.
NOTE: Readers can weigh in on their own suggestions with the Post’s interactive feature on rail car redesign
The 7000 series are not compatible with some of the old train cars, right?
A: They can’t couple up to older cars electronically but you can do so manually.
Metro has said it will pay nearly $8 million in extra overtime in fiscal 2012 because of a shortage of bus drivers and rail operators. What’s the latest on that?
A: We’re having to pay overtime to bus drivers because there’s a shortage of them because there was a previous freeze on hiring.
We’ve started to hire more drivers and we’re training more at one time. We’ve also stepped up our recruiting campaign for bus drivers, mechanics, train operators and controllers.
We’ve been at job fairs for military veterans. Someone who’s done flight controls for the military has the skills to come work for us.
Recent media reports have said Metro has spent its annual $48 million overtime budget in seven months. How do you explain that?
A: We’ve been much more aggressive of working on weekends and during rush hour than we were a few years go. We’re spending money on rebuilding the system.
We’ve increased capital spending by 50 percent in one year and you can’t hire people fast enough to do the work because they need time to be trained so we have to go to the workers we have and pay overtime if needed.