Friday, December 11, 2009

Metro Leadership: Fired Up or Just Fired?

Every now and then a member of our very own beloved United States Congress likes to weigh in on Metro, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency. Metro has been in dire straits the last few years, with multiple deadly accidents (on trains and buses), budget shortfalls, hiring freezes, performance issues and suicides at stations. Ridership is down after years of significant increases and there is a general feeling that something just not right.

Enter Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Senator from Maryland. She ripped the agency yesterday at a Congressional committee hearing. You can read some of the comments here. In summary, she called Metro out for weak management and being all talk and no action. The kicker is that Milkulski helped shepherd a bill through Congress which will net Metro $150,000,000 in capital for Metro. It will most likely pass and be signed into law. So now she's flexing a little muscle. Jim Graham weighed in, too. In responding to Mikulski's statement, Graham suggested that there will massive changes at Metro, and soon. I figured things were going downhill when Metro lost Dan Tangherlini to the city. But, in hindsight, I'm not too terribly disappointing with John Catoe. Will he lose his job? Probably not. I'm not sure that would better the situation.

I don't have many personal qualms with Metro. Having someone smile or be nice to me is not all that important. Having bus drivers not running down pedestrians and having managers that embrace changes in the name of safety are important. Having employees that are ever vigilant in maintaining equipment is important. I don't care how a driver pronounces Judiciary or if the carpet is orange or blue. But I do care that Metro communicates effectively and encourages helpful behavior by riders. If I can get from point A to point B close to the time I expect, and safely, I am happy. Fares will go up; they never go down. That's fine, but service should never be in decline. That need never goes down, only up.

So, whatever changes happen before the end of the year, whether Catoe goes or stays, Metro needs to get it together at the top, and send that message all the way down the line.