STATEMENT on WMATA leadership failures by Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz

August 13, 2015

Aimee Custis, Coalition for Smarter Growth
(202) 431-7185

WASHINGTON DC — In view of the report by Acting General Manager Jack Requa yesterday regarding WMATA’s significant failures with regard to rail track repair that led to the recent derailment, the Coalition for Smarter Growth calls again for unified action by our elected officials and priority hiring of a General Manager who is an experienced and successful manager, a transit system veteran, and above all, a leader who can build morale and personal commitment among staff, demand and generate top performance, and create a culture of safety, positive customer service, and pride.

We share the outrage expressed in today’s blog post by Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert and stand by what we said in our testimony to the WMATA Board in April 2015 (excerpted here):

“[WMATA] needs your unity and commitment — including a commitment to the financial resources it requires. No experienced candidate will want to walk into this agency in a multi-jurisdictional region without knowing that the jurisdiction’s leaders have come together with a common commitment and shared vision. Restoring this shared commitment and vision may even require some sort of summit that includes our Congressional delegation, the Governors, Mayor and local elected leaders.

[WMATA needs] just what the title says, a General Manager. One who has managed complex systems like Metro, but also one who possesses the leadership skills necessary to inspire and empower the staff to be investing in unrelenting improvement in maintenance, operations, planning, financial management, communications and customer service. The General Manager does not have to be a specialist in any of these particular fields, but must know how to hire and empower Assistant General Managers with the right combination of technical expertise and management skills for each of these service areas. The General Manager must have the experience to improve the structure and performance of the bureaucracy, and the leadership skill to build morale and personal commitment among staff, demand top performance, and create a culture of safety, positive customer service, and pride…

At the same time, 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.

In summary, the selection of a permanent General Manager must begin with recommitment to the system as our top regional priority. It is the backbone of our continued economic success. We need your commitment and that of all of our region’s elected officials to fully fund operations, rehabilitation and expansion of the system, working together toward a shared vision of a Next Generation of Transit for our region. We need to demonstrate the regional unity necessary to attract the best talent possible.”

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at