If you haven’t had a chance to talk with Metro’s new general manager, it’s probably your own fault. Paul J. Wiedefeld, who took over on Nov. 30, has done radio and TV shows, hung out in Metrorail stations and answered questions in forums across the region.
On Monday, he joined me for my weekly online chat. Here’s a transcript, edited for length and clarity. Wiedefeld introduced himself, I got to ask the first questions, and then the riders took over.
Wiedefeld’s introduction: I have heard a lot of rider concerns. Everything from system performance, announcements, communication, cleanliness, security concerns and safety, as well. But I’ve also heard positive comments, too. And more important, a recognition of the importance of the system to the region and to the individuals who use it. There is a desire to get back to where the system used to be.
Dr. Gridlock: Have you seen something that you think could be fixed in the short term that would give riders hope and build pride among Metro employees?
Wiedefeld: Clarity of PA announcements, in stations and on trains. This seems to get under a lot of people’s skin. I’ve experienced it myself, and I understand the frustration. This will be an area of focus for me in the near term.
I think we can move to get the 7000-series trains here sooner, and that will increase reliability and show people something tangible with regard to the improvements and investments we are making.
To that end, I recently met with the president of Kawasaki, who is responsible for building the cars, and I will be traveling to Lincoln, Nebraska, in the near future to drive home the importance of this to me and to our customers.
In addition, getting those older cars that are out of service now repaired as quickly as possible to get them back in passenger service.
Dr. Gridlock: What should they look for to judge you?
Wiedefeld: A change in culture, in terms of safety and customer service. With regard to safety, what I’m seeking is to create a culture where our mission isn’t to meet compliance but to exceed it. To have all employees feel the ability to raise any safety issues and to address them immediately.
In terms of customer service, that starts with me and showing respect to our front-line employees. In return for that respect, my expectation is that those employees, who are the face of Metro, treat customers the same way.
Q: Thank you so much for engaging with the public. Have you been able to reach out to your staff in the same manner?
Wiedefeld: Yes, I have attended several town hall meetings with employees already. I take every opportunity to interact with front-line employees, whether it be at stations, with station managers and police as well as bus operators, mechanics and headquarters personnel.
Q: I thought at one time Metro had a plan to upgrade the lighting in stations. What happened to that effort? In many stations, it is so gloomy and dark that we older folks find it impossible to read a newspaper or book.
Wiedefeld: As someone who recently turned 60, I can appreciate the difficulty in reading and general appearance as a result of poor lighting. I want a systemwide analysis of lighting from the perspective of both energy efficiency as well as brightness. This will enable us to not only save money and use less energy, but also to provide customers with brighter stations.
Q: Are you bringing in your own top managers to replace those already at WMATA since the current group seems to have failed?
Wiedefeld: I am in the process of viewing the entire organizational structure and staff. I have already concluded that I have too many people directly reporting to me and will be making some changes in the near term. As for individuals: They will need to perform at the level that I need to move this organization in the direction that it needs to go, or they will not be part of the team. Period.
Q: Please ask if something can be done to identify trains leaving Franconia-Springfield during Rush Plus [when some Yellow Line trains share the platform with Blue Line trains]. This morning, it was again the guessing game with two unmarked trains holding.
Wiedefeld: I’m not familiar with the technology details, but this sounds to me like we should be able to implement a temporary low-cost solution using WMATA personnel and/or signage. I’ll look into this immediately.
Q: How will you start laying the groundwork for the necessary long-term capital investment into Metro? The system is rapidly becoming outdated and insufficient.
Wiedefeld: In the short-term, my priority is to get the system performance back to where we all want and expect it to be. But as we look to the future, we all recognize the importance of Metro in supporting economic growth for the region, and we’ll need to take steps to support it.
Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail email@example.com.