Shake-Up at Metro

Friday, January 13, 2006

LET'S START with the easy part. Metro's severance package for its dismissed chief executive, Richard A. White, is ridiculous. Even if everyone agreed that his work had been outstanding, why should taxpayers guarantee him an annual income of more than $100,000 for the rest of his life? Mr. White, at 53, remains eminently employable; he has already told his staff that he is fielding private-sector offers. So why pad what is likely to be his already robust income for what could be decades? The board certainly should not promise such gratuitous taxpayer-financed charity to Mr. White's successor.

As for his departure, the arguments in favor were strong, not so much because Mr. White failed but because the aging nuts and bolts of Metro were rusting while management was losing touch with an increasingly disgruntled ridership. It came to a head on Wednesday, when the Metro board forced out the agency's longest-serving leader in its 30-year history. It was time for Metro to move on -- with acknowledgment of Mr. White's level-headed understanding of Metro's complex financial problems.

Those challenges, not easily fixed given the hydra-headed partnership of federal, state and local representatives running the system, have produced decaying buses, arthritic escalators and train cars with serious safety problems. With the aging of the system came the aging of the administration, leading to the mismanagement of nearly $1 billion in rail car and escalator contracts, ignored safety warnings, and failures in managing Metro's program to transport the disabled. As reported by The Post's Lyndsey Layton, Mr. White pledged to fix these problems, made some personnel changes and reorganized his staff. But progress was not fast enough for Metro's directors.

Mr. White is widely credited with rescuing the Metrobus system from financial collapse, but it has been badly neglected and poorly managed. Service is spotty and upkeep below par. Yet for all the mismanagement and negligence, a lack of sound regional funding has been the backbreaker. No one has been more vocal on this point than Mr. White, who has stressed the need for a dedicated, dependable source of funding.

Metro's board has done well in its choice of an interim general manager: Dan Tangherlini, who has headed the city's Transportation Department since 2002 and has served on the Metro board for 10 months, will leave those posts before taking over for Mr. White on Feb. 16. His knowledge of transportation and financing should stand the region in good stead. For now, the drive to establish dedicated funding and a more responsive management remains paramount. Public confidence in the capital's transportation system must be bolstered.


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