Here’s what people want in a new Metro GM

The Metro board’s governance committee is receiving a report Thursday on what government and community leaders, along with riders and other interested parties, had to say about the type of general manager they want the transit authority to pick.

The public picked up on the split among the board members over whether Metro needs a transit expert or a management turnaround specialist. These are excerpts from some of the statements presented to the board.

Letter from Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne:

… the next general manager will need to have more than just financial expertise to lead the transit system that is needed by this region. Managing a transit system is a complex job and prior experience within the industry would be highly preferred. Virginia recognizes that a visionary, dynamic leader with a proven track record of effective, ethical and customer-centric management at large, diverse organizations is needed … A culture of both operational and financial excellence must be established.

This position should not be viewed as an opportunity to get on-the-job training or as a short term interim position. While private sector principles can be applied to transit organizations, public transit systems are heavily subsidized and require compliance with public sector rules. We want to ensure that the next general manager of WMATA has the appropriate skills and background needed to address the current and future challenges of the agency.

Richard H. Bradley, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District:

The Metro board … should not assume that any individual will have the skills, talents, or abilities to meet all the management and leadership needs that are required. Most importantly, the board should look for someone who has the capacity, as well, to be a team leader and to support the nature of the team he or she will need to assemble to carry out the needed changes and improvements.

Lastly, I think that Metro needs someone, in this position, who understands, and has some basic operation knowledge of the nature of the businesses of public transit.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director, Coalition for Smarter Growth:

Metro is all of us. It’s not some alien entity. We share ownership of this amazing asset, and we cannot let it fail on our watch.

That’s why we are extremely concerned about the recent public dissension between the jurisdictions and among board members. Particularly distressful was the leak of the candidate names for general manager, which may have significantly compromised our ability to attract top candidates to apply for or accept the top leadership position at WMATA. Of equal concern is the lack of commitment from some jurisdictions to fund necessary capacity expansion, beginning with all eight-car trains at rush hour. Unless the board and the jurisdictions work together toward a shared vision of a healthy, restored, and growing transit network, we cannot possibly attract the top talent we need to lead and manage this large and complex agency.

We disagree that the system needs a general manager with some narrow range of expertise such as finance. Instead, it first needs your unity and commitment — including a commitment to the financial resources it needs.

… the board, general manager and staff must create a more open culture which shares more information with the public and engages the public in improving the system performance. Including the public in the process, openly accepting and acting on input, improving communications, and being open about mistakes, will build trust and strengthen a shared commitment to the system, which will help to retain and attract riders.

Robert Puentes, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, who said he was speaking for himself:

As the fourth‐busiest transit authority in this country, WMATA obviously needs someone who is experienced and expert with the specific duties of running a transportation agency.

With an operating budget hovering around $1.8 billion, WMATA also needs someone with the deep budget and finance acumen particular to a transit agency.

Perhaps most important is an absolute commitment to passenger and public safety.

However, given the unique circumstances of this region as well as the challenges particular to WMATA, other elements are also critically important.

The new general manager should then also be thinking differently about funding and finance, beyond being an advocate for more government resources.

WMATA needs someone who understands that while a safe, reliable, and efficient system is fundamental, transportation is only a means to an end and not the end itself. In this way, the new general manager needs to understand the transit system’s role in supporting the metropolitan economy.

Third, is that WMATA’s general manager should be able to labor under an extraordinarily complex governance structure, unique in the country. That is, in addition to serving the District of Columbia, WMATA provides direct and seamless services to two separate and distinct states with their own budgets, priorities, and perspectives that extend far beyond the Washington metropolitan area.

Barbara Hermanson, chair of the Metro Riders’ Advisory Council:

At the most basic level, riders want a safe and reliable way to get from Point A to Point B. We know that we’re seen as “revenue” to some and as “statistics” to others – flowing through a grand transportation system. But, unlike widgets on a distribution center conveyor, we are also thinking, feeling human beings. As we experience obstacles in getting from Point A to Point B, we want to understand what is happening around us, we want to know what options are available to us, and we want to feel valued.

There are many people on WMATA’s board and staff who value Metro riders, but unless that commitment to riders runs deep in the new GM’s outlook, it will not be pervasive in the behavior and communications of WMATA’s employees. We believe this outlook is essential to minimizing the retreat of Metro riders going forward.

Letter from Jackie L. Jeter, president of Amalgamated Transit Union 689:

The most important task that the new general manager will have to take on in their new leadership role is the task of shaking up the safety culture at WMATA. To us, someone that is willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty is more valuable than a person with years of business experience. The workers of WMATA are middle-class, blue-collar workers. We want to be able to feed our families and keep a roof over our heads. A general manager that is willing to put the safety and security of his/her workers first will boost morale immensely.

Stuart M Whitaker, founder of, a transit user’s group:

First, we need someone who understands how the competitive world works. For instance, Bill Gates does not use an iPhone, the CEO of General Motors does not drive a Ford, and I don’t believe that Metro’s new CEO should drive an automobile.

More generally, I am not saying that the new CEO should have specific industry experience or that the CEO be an economist.

I am saying that the new CEO should be a transit advocate who is customer and marketing oriented and who is able to develop and implement strategies to lead Metro through the changes that are going to come.

Read the original article here.