“What’s equally clear 90 days in,” he says, “is that turning Metro around requires us to confront some hard truths.”
And then, as in a Washington Post Op-Ed on Sunday morning, he gave a candid assessment of the system and how to fix it.
Metro’s safety culture isn’t felt throughout the rungs of the system, he says. Unpredictable maintenance schedules have frustrated riders. Customers are alarmed by a series of high-profile assaults and frustrated by decreasing rail reliability.
Moreover, he says on-time rail performance fell by seven percent in a single year, “and the experience for many customers was even worse as rail car mechanical failures have doubled the number of late trains.”
How to restore public confidence? Wiedefeld outlines a plan with a number of initiatives aimed at restoring trust and winning riders back.
First, a shakeup of the executive flowchart will leave Metro’s top nine officials, including its financial, safety and business chiefs, reporting directly to him, rather than through a complicated organizational structure. The simplified structure, he says, will enhance accountability and efficiency and result in Metro operating more like a business. Executive relationships in the past had “devolved,” he said, becoming more about protecting turf than delivering results.
Wiedefeld also prioritized hiring a new chief safety officer. Former safety chief James Dougherty resigned in September following a series of serious safety lapses culminating in the derailment of a non-revenue train Aug. 6.
In February, Metro’s second-in-charge Rob Troup, deputy general manager and top engineer of the system, resigned, in what was the most visible managerial shakeup since Wiedefeld became general manager.
“It will take everyone going forward together – employees, management, our Board, riders, funders, business leaders, communities, and all stakeholders – to restore this once-great system, renew our collective pride, and deliver a world-class system that benefits the nation’s capital,” Wiedefeld says in his letter.
The general manager also announced a number of initiatives aimed at improving transparency and customer relations. Several are already underway, such as installing cables in tunnels for better cell phone service, implementing new public safety radio systems to mitigate riders’ frustration about muffled intercom transmissions and creating a more visible police presence on the platforms.
No longer, Wiedefeld says, should customers be in the dark about the progress of its long-term projects. Wiedefeld proposes publishing an online schedule that indicates when each tunnel segment will be wired for cell service; he also suggests dynamic reports that outline the actions being taken to meet safety recommendations issued by the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Transit Administration.
A safety management inspection issued by the federal agency in June listed 91 corrective actions Metro must undertake to get its rail and bus operations up to snuff. Of the 732 required items, Metro says it has submitted 346 — or 47 percent of the changes — for approval.
Wiedefeld also prioritizes clear communications on the track status and maintenance. In his vision for the system, management “ownership” of each rail line would lead to a better rider experience, platform attendants would be available to answer customers’ questions during peak travel periods and station lighting and signage would be markedly improved. Wiedefeld says Metro will issue a rail service reliability plan to cut down on wait times and crowding and ensure trains are running on schedule. A “get well” plan for rail cars will ensure reliability. Faster deliverly of the new 7000-series rail cars will result in fewer breakdowns.
What’s more, he says, a Customer Accountability Report (CARe) will highlight the work being done to improve safety, security and public trust and update the ridership on the status of ongoing projects.
Wiedefeld says the agency is interested in developing a mobile app that gives customers instant access to train and bus wait times and other trip planning information. Following complaints about a lack in communication between third-party developers and Metro’s tech team, the agency said last month it would issue a new feed showing the real-time trains locations across all 117 miles of the transit system.
More complaints, Wiedefeld says, should be resolved through social media. And new passes, such as flexible fare passes being introduced later this month, will give riders an opportunity to save money.
Wiedefeld says performance evaluations for all employees will be established. Metro also will work with local jurisdictions to prioritize traffic signals in key area to cut down on bus travel times.
The agency also will look into simplifying its fare structure, he says.
In terms of finances, Wiedefeld says Metro has consistently underspent its capital budget — for more than 10 years.
“Metro’s financial position is stable, and its cash flow is positive, but its finances are substandard compared with the finances of other transit authorities, and it requires enormous efforts to deliver timely financial reports and clean audits,” he says in the Post op-ed.
Balancing the transit agency’s budget, he said, would necessitate continued operating subsidies and 6 percent fare increases per year over the next decade to accommodate for rising costs.
Last week, Wiedefeld ordered a moratorium on non-essential spending by the agency’s top executives.
Wiedefeld said Metro would also look into selling its 5th Street NW headquarters.