Pledging Safety and Service Upgrades, Catoe Is Sworn In at Transit Agency

John B. Catoe Jr., formerly the second-ranking Los Angeles transit official, heads a $1 billion agency.
John B. Catoe Jr., formerly the second-ranking Los Angeles transit official, heads a $1 billion agency. (Photos By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 26, 2007

John B. Catoe Jr., a Washington native who was the second-ranking official of the Los Angeles transit system, was sworn in as Metro's new general manager yesterday, pledging to improve safety and service.

"We will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure this system is safe for our customers and employees," Catoe told reporters after the Metro board's monthly meeting.

Catoe said he wanted Metro to have a safety record "second to none" and told board members he will make "some major announcements in safety initiatives" in the coming days and weeks.

Federal officials and daily riders have raised questions about Metrorail's safety after a string of incidents on the nation's second-busiest subway system, including a derailment earlier this month that injured 20 passengers near the Mount Vernon Square-Seventh Street-Convention Center Station and a Nov. 30 accident that killed two track inspectors near the Eisenhower Avenue Station.

Catoe, 59, takes over the $1 billion agency at a critical time, with looming financial troubles and changes on the 12-member board of directors.

Metro is facing a $116 million budget shortfall that managers have said may need to be covered, in part, by fare increases of as much as $2.10, more contributions from area taxpayers and reduced bus and rail service. Catoe and board members have said they want to look for more ways to trim costs before opting for fare increases and service cuts.

Catoe, the son of a District cabdriver, is the permanent replacement for Richard A. White, who was forced out in February 2006. He was followed by Dan Tangherlini, then the District's transportation director, who served as interim general manager until November. After Tangherlini left to become city administrator under Mayor Adrian Fenty (D), Metro's chief bus manager, Jack Requa, took over as acting general manager for three months.

Membership on the board, which is composed of six voting and six alternate members, is also changing. Maryland, the District and Virginia each appoint two voting members and two alternates.

Gladys Mack, a voting member who represents the District and is one of Metro's longest-serving directors, announced that she would step down after 23 years as soon as a replacement is approved by the D.C. Council.

Her seat will be filled by Emeka C. Moneme, acting director of the District Department of Transportation, according to city and Metro officials. Moneme is no stranger to Metro -- he was Tangherlini's chief of staff at the transit agency. As one of the six voting members, Moneme is likely to push for some of the same customer-friendly initiatives that Tangherlini supported.

Charles Deegan, a Republican who was appointed by the previous Maryland governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), was elected to serve a year-long term as board chairman. Deegan joined the board in 2004 representing Prince George's County. But his appointment, along with that of the other Maryland voting member, Ray Briscuso, are at the discretion of Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat. Their terms end May 31.

A spokesman for O'Malley said Transportation Secretary John Porcari is compiling a list of candidates for the Metro board and would be moving forward "in a timely fashion." Porcari said he has spoken to Deegan, whom he said shared the new administration's transit priorities, but declined to elaborate on who will take those spots.

On the Virginia side, the announcement by Democrat T. Dana Kauffman that he would not be running for a fourth term as a Fairfax County supervisor this fall means that Metro will also be losing one of the two voting members representing Virginia. Kauffman will remain on the Metro board until he completes his term as supervisor late this year or early next year. Another board member will be appointed to represent Virginia.

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