Q: Four years ago, almost exactly, I had the pleasure of standing up there while you were sworn in. I can remember my overwhelming feeling at the time was relief that this was behind me. How do you feel?
A: I'm beginning to get some sense of relief already. People have said I'm standing up straighter. My tie's a little looser. I don't quite take the same serious view of every discussion that I used to. It's been a long hard four years just as your 2 1/2 was long and hard. But for me it's a bittersweet decision to go. I'm sad about leaving because this is an extraordinarily successful enterprise. I feel very proud to have been general manager. I like the job despite the aggravation.
Q: There are grueling aspects to being Metro general manager. What are the kinds of things that sent you up the wall the most?
A: Well, I think the biggest frustration is with the board of directors. I don't think that they individually or collectively have defined what they want. Sometimes they act like statesmen. Sometimes they act like a budget analyst. Sometimes they act like the general manager. They haven't defined their role. If you ask any given member of the board what's policy, you'll get 12 different answers.
One of the things I should have done and I would advise my successor to do is to take a couple days with the staff and make a list of everything that the staff understands to be policy. Go back to the board and say, "We think this is the fare policy and the advertising policy and the news-media policy and the accident policy. Do you agree? Are there other topics that you want to set policy for?"
Right now, I don't have any clear understanding with the board of directors about what they expect from me today or tommorrow or by next month. That's the principle area of frustration. It sounds easy to describe the problem. It's a lot harder to come up with a solution, especially when the board changes. I've had 24 members on the board in four year in 12 chairs.
Q: This sounds a little self-serving and I guess it is, but who supports the general manager? Who takes care of you? I mean, who looks after your tender sensibilities once in a while? (Is there someone) who would occasionally dragoon you off for some sort of breakfast where you could cry on their shoulder for a little while and know it wasn't going to come back to drill you a few days later? We're all human and we all fall apart. What keeps you going?
A: I'm not sure there is (a support). In Seattle we had a slightly different arrangment. The board represented a series of governments, the way this one does. But then they chose as chairmen a citizen who did not hold public office. He did not represent any particular government. He didn't change every year the way it does here. His job was to be a neutral objective chairman, presiding officer and some kind of support for the general manager.
Q: Bounce things off him? Share some heat?
A: Right. Give me some advice. Let me complain a little bit and do it confidentially without my fearing that it would go back to anybody. But that's missing here.
Q: What about family impact of all this? I waited too long to get started on kids, so I'll be working for a hundred years. I guess I had my first when I was Metro general manager.
A: How did you have time?
Q: It must have been between hearings.
I know Edith has a career of her own. I know she's glad to go back to Seattle. Is she glad it's over with?
Q: She's glad it's over with. She and the kids have been very proud of Metro. But they get tired of funny phone calls from citizens or reporters. They get tired of night meetings and weekend requirements. They get tired of my coming home tired and complaining. It's hard. They're an important support group but they can't do it forever.
Q: When you're briefing your successor, probably while you're sitting there looking out over Lake Washington, is "grueling" a word you would use about the job?
A: That's too strong. I know one general manager in New York who said there are no highs in his job. Here you have some highs. The next general manager is going to have some very good things happen, almost regardless of what he does.
Q: If he can keep from snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?
A: Exactly. We are going to expand the rail system from 42 to 70 miles in the next three years. We have already let contracts for 110 new buses and 200 rehabilitated buses. Those are going to improve service.
One of the things I feel best about are the employees at Metro. They are a valuable resource to this community. If the snow falls, or there's some breakdown or if there's anything that goes wrong, we have people who will voluntarily get out of bed and get to work and repair the problem. We have people who work long hours trying to make sure that the service is on time and reliable and on the street. I think that's going to be an important resource to the next general manager.
"Grueling" only applies to how to control the budget. And the budget is going to increase no matter what the next general manager does.
Q: Because of service expansion.
A: And because of inflation. That's going to be the principle challenge, to control costs.
Which do you think is the tougher job, being a national administrator or a local government manager?
Q: I think the tougher job is being the local. The citizen walks into the office. The phone call comes. It's your bus on the street and if it doesn't show, it's your fault. When you ride the bus -- and I know you're a regular rider as I was -- the folks know who you are.
I'm increasingly concerned that when this board of directors meets -- statesmen as they may be as individuals -- they're having to shill directly for Montgomery County, directly for Fairfax, directly for D.C. Shill for the local operating cost. "Whatever's cheapest for my county is best." Does that mean that Metro turns into a kind of pablum, lowest common-denominator exercise? I'm worried about that. Does it mean that we won't get anything good in a regional solution?
A: I'm worried about it too. You talk about the engineering marvel and the architectural marvel and the construction marvel and the financial marvel. Metro is also a political miracle -- that this collection of governments could actually build the tunnels and lay the track and make the trains run. It's getting harder though.
Q: I sometimes cynically think you can organize this operation until you're blue in the face. But as long as they walk into that boardroom, having to vote for what's best for Fairfax County -- . They go back home and the local board of supervisors says "Hey, you gave away a nickel today because it was in the regional good. Nobody elected you in the regional good."
A: You're absolutely right. But let me talk for a minute about the regional good. Metro is still a popular thing. You can run for office and be in favor of a regional good almost anywhere in this region. So maybe that's testimony to the fact that we have a good system. It is running. It is serving the public.
This Balkanization of the board means that the general manager gets put in a more visible and occasionally contentious role of trying to forge these compromises. Then increasingly the board says, "I don't want the general manager out there speaking for Metro. The board ought to speak for Metro." I've been told not to go to Annapolis. That the board members will go to Annapolis, and they will speak for Metro.
Q: I've sometimes toyed with the theory that after a certain number of years in one of these high-pressure public-management things -- whether they be city management jobs, urban school districts, transit -- you have made enough enemies or had to say "no" often enough that you almost have used up your chips. No matter how good you are, it may be time to move on. I wonder if there's a basic bankroll theory at work?
A: Somebody gave me that theory when I came on as general manager. I disagreed at the time. I regard myself the way you and (former District of Columbia superintendent of schools) Vince Reed do -- as a nonpartisian professional public administrator. But, I think I agree with the theory today.
Q: Do you?
A: Yeah. For school superintendents, for urban police chiefs, for transit administrators, four or five years is a long time in office, given the pressure of boards of directors, the media, citizens and the question pervading all government: how to do the same with less revenue.
Q: How are you feeling about leaving public service? Do you think we are making the job so hard, so full of flak, with such little appreciation, that you don't want to go back?
A: I'm looking forward to leaving public service for a while. The top jobs are very demanding. We as a society ask an awful lot of you or me or the school superintendent or the federal administrator. If the question is would I advise a student coming out of a university masters degree program to go into public service, the answer is yes. But I would also say, try to mix up your career with some private experience and some public. Because it's harder in public. The pay is less. The punishment is greater. It's harder on your family. You need both.
Q: We put quite a bit of the taxpayers' money in the ground. You sometimes wonder if you're fighting a battle that is going to win. You've got an exercise in human engineering or social engineering. Are we really able to reshape patterns? Should we? Are we going to be faced with inefficiently trying to serve folks who really want to live out in Fauquier or Spotsylvania County?
A: If you and I knew the answer to that, we could set ourselves up as philosophers. Have an easier life.
Q: Do you worry about it?
A: Sure, you worry about it. Should we do the social engineering? That goes to the heart of whether you tell people where to live.
A: But we don't do that in this country. What we ought to do more of in this country is to point out the costs of people's choices. If he really wants to live in Fauquier County and commute to work, he ought to pay quite a bit for that. There are societal costs. Sewers and roads and schools and transit service, as well as his own commuting costs.
Q: The fare in from New Carrolton now is up to maybe $1.80, $1.85 in rush hour. Are we pricing ourselves out of the market?
A: We hear that. If you drive to New Carrolton and pay $1 to park your car, or you pay a bus fare, and then get on a subway and come downtown and go back again, you're gonna pay $4-$4.50, round trip.
Q: I was always frustrated about getting a fair accounting for the comparative cost of the automobile. There seems to be a great reluctance by local governments to take a hard look at the subsidies to the automobile. Snow removal and traffic court and police protection for automobile-related issues.
A: I couldn't figure out how to do it as general manager. It's still the quick way that transit gets beaten over the head. The land lost to parking to accommodate the precious little automobile is also a lost revenue. Another factor that's simply not put into that cost equation is saifety. Injuries and accidents and fatalities caused by the automobile. It dismays me to read one of the planners from the Council of Governments recently here who said it's time we reemphasize the automobile. Well, that's not the policy for this region nor should it be. I guess it irritates me because the Council of Governments is one kind of agency which ought to do this kind of honest balance sheet for autos and transit.
Q: Boy, that's so true.
A: It also happens to the individual. His employer pays for his parking. He pays his insurance by check from home. He buys his gas with plastic. With us he has to have money up front, every day. I guess what I joked about, but I think we ought to try in some fashion, is the goal of credit-card transit.
Q: Buy your fare card with a bank card?
A: Absolutely. Make the cost less direct.
Q: What were the things you take the most pride in?
A: One of them is the one you told me about four years ago -- emphasize operations. And we have. Today for the first time the operating budget is higher than the construction budget. Today we're running the railroad more on time with fewer interruptions than ever before in the seven years that it's been running. And we're starting to make some improvements in the bus system.
Q: They're still writing articles in an envious tone in The New York Times about how their subway is a graffiti-laden mess and ours is not. My frustrations were losing fights on the security and maintenance staffing.
A: The thing that's going to help the next general manager -- and it helped you and it helped me -- is the public. The citizens show up on the trains. The citizens show up for the ribbon cuttings.
Q: There's a sense of pride in Metro as a regional accomplishment.
A: Exactly. Public support for a first-class transit system.
Q: The pride of being associated with something which is in a tangible way helping to tie the region together.
A: It's exciting.
Q: That is something that does keep you going. It was one of the things that the citizen in Anacostia, the citizen in Prince George's County, the citizen in Alexandria or Fairfax all can relate to.
A: We just linked Chinatown to the Pentagon -- the best example to me of what the subway is doing for this region. It's making connections where they didn't exist before.