The second-highest-paid executive at Metro is Rob Troup, who was promoted earlier this year to become deputy general manager of operations. He makes $265,000 a year. Sarles also recently promoted Ron Pavlik, a deputy chief in the Metro Transit Police department, to replace the departing chief, Michael Taborn. Pavlik is paid $185,000 a year.
The Washington Post requested the salary information, which shows that the average salary for the top 16 people on Metro’s executive team is $198,700.
Metro has about 12,000 employees and has been on a hiring spree over the past year as it gears up to open the Silver Line in Northern Virginia. It is the No. 2 rail system in the country, based on the number of passenger trips on an average weekday — about 750,000.
Metro is in talks this summer with its largest union — Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 — to negotiate a new contract. Although Metro’s top bosses didn’t receive major raises, some union leaders have expressed concerns about how much the executives are paid. They worry that management wants to cut employees’ pay, pensions and health-care benefits.
Sarles and the agency’s board of directors have said they would not approve pay increases after the union won a retroactive, three-year pay raise of about 9 percent that was dispersed in 2011. (The pay raise was awarded in 3 percent increments for 2009, 2010 and 2011.)
As the agency’s pension costs have grown, Metro officials have talked about having employees make contributions to their pension plans, which are fully funded by the agency.
Jackie Jeter, the president of Local 689, said her group is frustrated because Metro often “touts its high compensation and good benefits to attract new hires.”
“But at the same token they are also trying to cut those very things,” she said. “It leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”
Managers at hiring firms said that as the national economy has faltered in recent years and transit agencies have struggled to deal with funding, many transit employees have not received pay raises. Systems in cities such as Atlanta have laid off employees as they cut service.
“It’s a real challenge these days and many factors are at play,” said Alan Fromowitz, a principal at Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search and consulting agency. “Unions want additional benefits. Transit agencies are facing huge funding pressures with the downturn in the economy and significant infrastructure investments are necessary for repairs and maintenance. All this while trying to provide the same level of service.”
At Metro’s helm, Sarles is among the highest-paid executives running a major transit agency in the United States, according to employment recruiters and officials at other subway systems.
Sarles makes more than New York’s subway and bus systems chief, who received $296,000 in 2012. And he is paid more than the top executives in Philadelphia ($260,000), Boston ($220,000) and Chicago ($202,000).
An engineer, Sarles came to Metro with 40 years of transit experience. He worked at Amtrak and ran New Jersey’s transit authority. He was hired at Metro in 2010 as interim general manager and became the permanent general manager in January 2011.
He was brought in after the fatal Red Line crash in 2009 to rebuild the Metrorail system and improve the agency’s safety record.
Last year, Sarles did not accept a bonus the board offered him. Five of his top executives received a combined total of $25,000 bonuses based on “business plan results,” said Dan Stessel, a Metro spokesman.
The bonuses come as Metro often has had troubles delivering consistent, reliable service. Riders also said they often don’t get accurate, timely information from Metro when there are problems or delays.
Stessel said Sarles “has not indicated” whether he will give bonuses this year to his top executives.