Improved Safety and Service Are Focus of Reorganization, Chief Says

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2007

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. is restructuring the transit agency to emphasize safety and improve services, he told board members yesterday.

In presenting the first phase of Metro's reorganization, Catoe said he was streamlining an agency that, after expanding over the years, has many offices that duplicate functions and others, such as construction, that have lost touch with Metro's core mission.

Catoe also created the position of safety and security czar to oversee police, safety and emergency management. Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson was named to the new job, and Metro will be seeking to replace her as chief. Safety chief Fred Goodine has announced that he is retiring in August.

As part of the reorganization, all operations -- bus, rail and MetroAccess, the service for the disabled -- will report directly to Catoe's right-hand man, Deputy General Manager Gerald Francis. Francis worked closely with Catoe at their previous employer, the Los Angeles transit agency.

The reorganization is part of Catoe's overhaul of the agency. Earlier this week, he announced that Metro plans to cut 220 jobs -- the most in its history -- as part of an effort to close a budget shortfall without raising fares or reducing service. The cuts will be in administrative positions and will not include public safety employees or those involved in operations.

About 100 of the positions to be cut are from the construction office, which is being phased out because Metro is no longer building rail lines or stations. The new structure makes "that function subordinate to operations," Catoe said. He even "purposely destroyed" the word "construction" in the office's name. In the revised chart, the office is called Facility Engineering.

Catoe praised employees who went "beyond the call of duty." He singled out station manager Leroy Vaughn, train operator Zayid Alim, escalator technician Jabbar Goff and rail car mechanic Robert Gouty for their quick responses to the Easter Sunday fire at the Waterfront-SEU Station. The fire erupted in one of Metro's newest rail cars. No injuries were reported.

Elizabeth "Betty" Hewlett, Metro's new chairman, touched on similar themes. She said it was important for Metro not to take its customers for granted and for public confidence to be restored in the agency.

Referring to recent fatal train and bus accidents, she said, "Metro must become a place in which employees who come to work get to go home safely to their families each day." She also said Metro should operate in such a way that "the public doesn't have to hold its collective breath when a bus enters a crowded intersection."

Hewlett said she hoped that Catoe would develop a "rational and comprehensive fare structure" that the board could adopt.

Catoe also has moved safety officers and quality-control staff from Goodine's safety department to rail and bus operations. Some Metro employees have criticized the change because they fear the reassignments will result in a loss of independence. Those employees alert others to safety problems with rail cars, buses and other equipment.

Five years ago, then-General Manager Richard A. White did the exact opposite -- giving the quality-control personnel greater independence by having them report to Goodine -- after defects were discovered on Metro's rail cars that should have been caught by inspectors.

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