WAMU 88.5 : News

New Metro Boss Promises Focus On 'Nuts And Bolts' To Win Back Commuters

Wiedefeld, right, talks Monday with journalist Thomas Burr of the Salt Lake Tribune at a National Press Club luncheon.
WAMU/Martin Di Caro
Wiedefeld, right, talks Monday with journalist Thomas Burr of the Salt Lake Tribune at a National Press Club luncheon.

Metro’s new general manager outlined a broad agenda in his first major remarks since taking the job in November, promising to improve rail service for customers and create transparency across the troubled transit authority.

Speaking at a luncheon televised live on CSPAN-2 from the National Press Club, Paul Wiedefeld said Metro’s problems are worse than the public has been led to believe, but his focus will be on short-term fixes to convince riders that their time and safety on the rail lines are paramount. (WAMU 88.5's Martin Di Caro discussed Wiedefeld's plan Monday on The Kojo Nnamdi Show.)

Metro is “not coming out with a five-year plan. We have those things in place. It’s really about the nuts and bolts of where we can start to make changes that can impact the customer,” Wiedefeld said.

On Sunday the new boss of the second-busiest subway system in America, whose bus and paratransit arms combine with rail to employ 13,000 people, posted an open letter to riders outlining a 28-point plan to fix rail operations and Metro’s shaky finances. Now, the challenge is convincing labor unions, politicians, and riders to go along with it.

“We’ve called for a team effort. The general manager is doing his part. Obviously the management that work for him and the line staff have to do their part, and the unions, the business community and most importantly, the elected officials,” said Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a transit advocacy group.

Jim Dinegar, the president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, a business group, also applauded Wiedefeld’s comprehensive approach.

“Metro is the economic engine that drives this region and without it we are crippled,” Dinegar said. “It is not lost of me that [ridership] has really slid. That is a very big concern. We are not just losing them to Uber. We are not just losing them to bikes. People have had shaken confidence in Metro. We have to restore that confidence.”

Much of Wiedefeld’s remarks touched on the system-wide problems detailed in a consulting firm's report obtained by WAMU 88.5 last month. The company, McKinsey & Company, is expected to provide a series of recommendations in the coming weeks, but Wiedefeld already is implementing changes to his upper management team with promises to overhaul an ineffective management structure at WMATA.

Among the new general manager’s near-term challenges is reigning in unsustainable expenses, which mostly are driven by growing labor costs. The contracts for three unions, including ATU Local 689 which represents about 8,000 workers, expire in June. Negotiations are expected to ramp up soon.

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