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Metro Board Gives Unanimous Approval To New General Manager

Wiedefeld officially takes over as Metro's general manager on Nov. 30.
WAMU/Martin Di Caro
Wiedefeld officially takes over as Metro's general manager on Nov. 30.

This story has been updated.

Within an hour of being sworn in to lead the D.C. region’s sprawling transit system, Paul Wiedefeld acknowledged Metro’s problems and promised riders he will oppose raising fares — at least until reliability improves.

Metro’s board of directors voted unanimously to appoint Wiedefeld, 60, as general manager and CEO, ending a bumpy search that began more than a year ago. The former chief of BWI Airport and Maryland Transit Administration, Wiedefeld officially succeeded Richard Sarles, who announced his retirement last year. Metro has been led by interim general manager Jack Requa for the last 10 months.

“The unfortunate fact is we’ve lost a lot of our credibility as an agency and, to be frank, as a board,” said Wiedefeld in his first public remarks immediately following the swearing-in ceremony at WMATA headquarters. “We need to move beyond that, and to achieve that is going to take a partnership with me and the board, with me and the employees, with me and the riders.”

Wiedefeld will be paid an annual salary of $397,500 — not including benefits and performance bonuses — making him one of the highest paid transit executives in the U.S. Sarles’ salary was $366,000.

The new general manager inherits an enormous number of problems, both urgent and long-term.

The performance of Metro’s rail and bus systems have deteriorated by the transit authority’s own metrics, ridership is falling, maintenance continues to be backlogged, two federal investigations revealed a slew of safety concerns following the January death of passenger Carol Glover on the Yellow Line and public confidence in Metro is at a low point.

On the financial side, the transit authority remains under a severe restriction when drawing down federal grant dollars, the result of an FTA audit that uncovered the mishandling of those funds.

Metro’s budget projections say expenses (which are largely driven by personnel costs) will outstrip revenue for years to come, a dilemma complicated by upcoming contract negotiations with its largest union, ATU Local 689, whose members will be seeking another raise. Metro also has a $6 billion wish list of expansion projects to grow the capacity of the rail and bus systems, all unfunded.

For the budget year that starts next July, Metro is facing a potentially large deficit, but it won’t be balanced on the backs of riders, Wiedefeld said. He will oppose raising fares until the trains run on time.

“I just don’t think this is the time to be asking people for more money when we are not performing to the level that we expect,” Wiedefeld said.

In the short term, Metro’s new boss will meet various stakeholders for a series of listening sessions; conduct a top-to-bottom review of staff; visit Kawasaki’s plant in Lincoln, Nebraska, to see why promised shipments of new railcars are behind schedule; and hire a permanent chief safety officer to replace James Dougherty, who resigned after the Aug. 6 derailment of an empty train outside Smithsonian station.

“I have a lot of homework to do. I am not going to deny that,” Wiedefeld said in remarks to reporters. "This next month I will continue... meeting with as many stakeholders as I can, and doing that by myself. I want to hear unvarnished views, and I am not going to be held captive of this building.”

The Metro board was close to hiring a traditional transit specialist in February to succeed Sarles. Grace Crunican, who runs San Francisco’s BART system, was the pick, but opposition from Maryland and D.C. officials scuttled the selection process. Those officials wanted to broaden the job description to include candidates with expertise in finances or fixing broken agencies.

Where does Wiedefeld fall in the debate over transit specialist vs. change agent?

“My background is running complex organizations that have lots of lots of moving parts, have lots and lots of stakeholders, and trying to articulate where we are trying to get to, and then put things in place to get there,” Wiedefeld said. “By example, at BWI the goal was to become the busiest airport in the Washington region. And that took a lot of effort — internal effort and external effort. So that’s what I do.”

Wiedefeld lives in the Towson area with his wife and 16-year-old daughter. He plans to rent an apartment in the D.C. region along the Red Line. In the meantime, he's taking MARC trains from Baltimore to Union Station, then hopping on Metro’s Red Line one stop to Judiciary Square. From there he walks to WMATA headquarters.

Wiedefeld said he would ride all lines and the buses in the coming weeks to mingle with paying customers.

Metro resolution on appointment of new GM Paul J. Wiedefeld

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