U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said Thursday that Metro has made dramatic improvements under his watch — despite the fact that riders today encounter as many commuting disruptions and delays as ever.
“It maybe sounds dissonant to say this,” Foxx said told reporters at Department of Transportation headquarters, “but the system is actually better today than it was a year ago.”
“This is a situation where success looks like failure,” Foxx said. “The fact that issues are being exposed is actually an advancement for Metro, because there were many years there where there were issues that were not being exposed.”
Foxx discussed Metro, self-driving car innovation and the future of infrastructure investment at his last news conference as transportation secretary, where he sipped on a Diet Coke and wore an Obama-themed tie patterned with lots of tiny O’s.
Foxx has served as transportation secretary since June 2013; before that, he was mayor of Charlotte, N.C. Just over two years into his tenure, he decided that things at Metro had gotten so dangerous that his agency needed to step in and take on safety oversight responsibilities.
Foxx said the presence of federal inspectors on the tracks has the system safer, and he believes that Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld “wants to bring about the culture changes that the system needs.”
Still, Foxx acknowledged that Metro remains far from perfect — and he expressed frustration about the fact that Maryland and Virginia have not approved an independent safety oversight organization that assume some of those responsibilities from the Federal Transit Administration.
“I can’t overstate how much work there still is ahead of Metro, and it goes beyond safety oversight that we’re doing — that, frankly, the jurisdictions should be doing themselves,” Foxx said. “I continue to expect that they pick up that responsibility again.”
As for long-term issues related to Metro’s future — such as a dedicated funding source or governance structures — Foxx said those are a “luxury” that can’t be given significant attention until safety issues are sorted out.
“I haven’t had the luxury of being able to talk about that much because we’ve been in the throes of the day-to-day minutiae, but if they can get the state safety oversight agency piece right, maybe I’ll start talking about it,” Foxx said. “But they need to get that right first.”
Since the election, Foxx has been vague about his plans for life post-Inauguration Day, saying only that he will return to North Carolina and live as a private citizen, at least for a while.
On Thursday, he acknowledged that he will spend some time doing public speaking and also writing — “I have some books that I want to write.” And he suggested that he won’t be seeking public office in the near future.
He said he remains passionate about issues such as increasing opportunities for underserved communities and addressing the urban-rural divide, but wants to work on those issues from North Carolina and “maybe that can be a laboratory for civic engagement by a private citizen.”
“I won’t have cucumbers in my eyes,” Foxx added. “My wife won’t let me.”