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Posted at 05:33 PM ET, 01/13/2012

Metro hires more people for communications team

[This post has been updated]

The team of people responsible for representing Metro to the world is expanding with the recent hire of two new people to fill existing vacancies. It’s the latest chapter in a period of severe turnover for the regional transit authority’s media team.

Metro’s Managing Director of Public Relations Lynn Bowersox said the transit authority has hired two Washington journalists. They include:

●Caroline Lukas, who Bowersox described as a “producer in the Washington bureau of Canadian Broadcasting.” Lukas will be the media relations manager reporting to Metro’s chief spokesman and director of communications, Dan Stessel, Bowersox said.

Philip Stewart, who is a reporter for News Channel 8 and WJLA. Stewart will be a public information officer.

According to Bowersox, Lukas and Stewart will begin their positions in February.

“Their knowledge of the region, combined with their considerable skills and talents reporting the news through broadcast and digital channels, will help us share information about our progress rebuilding Metro,” she said in a statement.

Stewart and current public information officer Cathy Asato will report to Lukas. Asato, Lukas, Stessel and Stewart will be the authority’s official spokesmen, Stessel said. The agency previously had six. However, two new positions have been created in the bus division to handle social media outreach, along with the hiring of an overall social media manager. Stessel refused to release information on the salaries of any of the new hires because it is “considered private information,” he said.

Stessel said the hires are necessary because Metro’s communications functions have expanded.

“We’re doing more than media relations,” Stessel said. “The whole social media function is new. We’ve started a two-way conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and we’re doing videos.”

Metro hired the social media manager, Brian Anderson, last summer to help run its outreach efforts. Metro also launched a marketing campaign, called Metro Forward, saying it was trying to aggressively provide information in the midst of a capital effort to rebuild the aging and deteriorating transit system.

“For everyone to understand the importance of rebuilding Metro,” Stessel said, “and the tough and necessary work that’s underway to get the system back to where we all want it to be requires communicating about those projects so that people understand the why about single-tracking and other inconveniences.”

The agency has been frequently disparaged for its often obscure alerts and tweets that provide a minimum of information when problems occur in the rail and bus system. Stessel has said he wants to provide more clarity when Metro provides information to the public, but he has been criticized by some Metro users for what they describe as a lack of responsiveness to their requests for information

The agency has also been criticized by riders and transportation experts for its communication strategies in times of crises, such as after an accident in October where a man was struck by a train at Clarendon station and following the August earthquake. In both cases riders have said Metro provided inadequate information while stations were packed with thousands of people needing information about the level of service the authority could provide. Stessel has said Metro communicated throughout the incidents using a variety of outlets.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles, named to the permanent post in January 2011, began making changes in the communications team in 2010, while he was interim head. He hired Barbara Richardson, who he worked with several years ago at Amtrak, as assistant general manager of customer service, communications and marketing. He also brought in Bowersox from New Jersey Transit, where she had worked as assistant executive director for communications. Sarles headed New Jersey Transit until he retired from that agency in January 2010. Stessel also worked at New Jersey Transit before joining Metro.

The communications team mostly consists of new personnel. Stessel joined the authority last spring and replaced veteran spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein, who left for a position at Homeland Security. Most recently, Steven Taubenkibel departed Metro for George Washington University Hospital in November after 11 years in media relations at Metro. Information specialist Angela Gates left Metro in June to work for the Federal Transit Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Metro hired social media manager Anderson following Gates’s departure.

Stessel said Metro has also hired two people, Viktor Maco and Allison Roberts, to send out alerts for Metrobus, similar to the system already in place for Metrorail. They were hired in November, he said, but the system for bus alerts is still being set up.

According to Stessel, Maco previously worked with Metro as a customer operations specialist for the rail division. Roberts worked as an administrator in the rail operations center. They both report to Anderson, who reports to Stessel.

The previous members of the communications teams performed media relations for Metro through some of the worst times in the authority’s history, including the 2009 Red Line crash, which killed nine people and injured dozens; the ensuing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and other authorities; a spate of bus accidents, worker deaths and Metrorail suicides; and a Washington Post investigation into Metro’s lax safety culture.

Previous Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. stepped down in 2010, citing “incessant publicity” about safety lapses and a desire to give the troubled transit authority a fresh start.

By  |  05:33 PM ET, 01/13/2012

 
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