From A To B: Cleaning Up Metro's Act (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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From A to B: Cleaning Up Metro's Act

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:40:01
I'm Rebecca Sheir and for those of you who might've just tuned into the show, it's spring-cleaning time here on "Metro Connection." We're cleaning up our parks, our schools, our beaches, but right now we're going to talk about cleaning up something else, Metro, on our weekly transportation segment, "From A To B."

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:40:25
And joining me in the studio to talk about how Metro's leaders are trying to clean up Metro's act is WAMU transportation reporter, David Schultz. Hey, David, thanks for joining us.

MR. DAVID SCHULTZ

13:40:34
Hey, my pleasure.

SHEIR

13:40:35
So I understand there's been a lot of change among higher-ups at Metro in the past few months.

SCHULTZ

13:40:40
Yes, that's right. Metro has been in heavy reform mode for some time now, at least since the Redline crash in June of 2009 and probably even before that. Several independent reviews of the organization have given it poor marks on everything from safety to maintenance to budgeting. And after taking a lot of flack for this in the press, Metro's really begun to clean house among its top leaders. It's got a new permanent CEO and half the people on its board of directors are also new.

SHEIR

13:41:05
All right. So I want to get into how all these changeups might affect Metro riders, but first, remind us again how the board of directors works exactly.

SCHULTZ

13:41:13
Sure. Well, Metro is set up kind of like most corporations. You have a CEO who deals with the day-to-day, but then you also have a board of directors and they deal with the really big picture stuff. Now, there are 14 people sitting on the Metro board. Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. get to appoint four each and then the other two are federal appointees. And they're mostly prominent people in their respective communities, some current or former local politicians and a few transient industry vets.

SHEIR

13:41:36
So what kind of things do all these people get to decide?

SCHULTZ

13:41:38
Well, they pass a budget every year and that goes a really long way toward defining Metro priorities. They're also the ones who made the final decision on last year's big fare increase, the biggest increase in Metro's history.

SHEIR

13:41:49
Yes, I do recall that one.

SCHULTZ

13:41:51
Yes. Well, anyway, a lot of the people who were sitting on Metro's board of directors for a very long time aren't there anymore. D.C. councilmen Jim Graham and Arlington County board member Chris Zimmerman have, between the two of them, more than 20 years experience on Metro's board. As of this year, they're both gone.

SCHULTZ

13:42:07
Neal Albert, the city administrator under former D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty, he's gone and all four board members from Maryland, all four, have been replaced.

SHEIR

13:42:15
Wow. So there is a lot of new blood on this board.

SCHULTZ

13:42:18
Yes, and this has all been happening in the past three or four months.

SHEIR

13:42:21
Okay. So my question is, why is all of this happening now? Why are all of these members, you know, bolting for the exits all of a sudden?

SCHULTZ

13:42:28
Well, some of it is just the changing of administrations. As you know, there's a mayor in D.C. and a new county executive in Prince George's County in Maryland. So one of the first things they do when they get in office is install their own people, but also I think part of it is these board members are acknowledging that maybe it's time to give someone else a shot at running Metro.

SCHULTZ

13:42:44
You know, ever since the train crash in 2009, it's just been really one negative thing after another for Metro. So by stepping down, the board members are sort of tacitly acknowledging that maybe new management might instill more confidence in the system.

SHEIR

13:42:56
I see. I mean, that makes sense, but with all of these new people on the board I would think the political dynamic has to change. So where are the votes now on the Metro board? How of things, you know, changed in that respect?

SCHULTZ

13:43:07
Well, this I think is the most interesting thing that's come of all this. So now we're seeing things get considered that never would have before. The example, I'm thinking of is of weekend late night service. This is something we reported on a few weeks ago and Metro is considering shutting down its train service three hours earlier on weekends.

SCHULTZ

13:43:22
Now, this has come up a few times in the past, but it's never gone anywhere because the board members from D.C. always threaten to veto.

SHEIR

13:43:28
Right, right.

SCHULTZ

13:43:29
So now the early weekend closing proposal is back on the table, but this time the D.C. delegation is not united in its opposition. Mayor Vincent Gray's appointee to the Metro board, Tom Downs, says he's seriously considering the proposal. He says it would give Metro more time to do badly needed track work and if D.C. can't block it, then this proposal has a good chance of passing this year.

SHEIR

13:43:50
Wow. We look forward to seeing how all of this pans out and, David Schultz, you'll be the one to bring us that news. So thanks so much for joining us today.

SCHULTZ

13:43:57
Thanks, it's good to be here.

SHEIR

13:43:58
David Schultz is WAMU's transportation reporter. You can hear him each and every week on "Metro Connection" in our segment, "From A To B."
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