Thursday, March 4, 2010

New Driver for Metro Bus and Rail?

Safety, maintenance, pricing, or customer service won't likely improve immediately, but Metro is trying to take a step in that direction. They have (almost) hired the person who will replace outgoing GM John Catoe. His name is Richard Sarles. Sarles was most recently the Executive Director of New Jersey Transit, a sprawling agency operating in a vast area connecting Philadelphia, Atlantic City, New York and many points in between. He managed the agency's 10,000+ employees. Sarles also put in time at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Amtrak.

I'm guessing he will have an outside (inside?) chance to become the permanent Metro GM after the interim period, which is supposed to last anywhere from six to twelve months. The Metro Board of Directors will use the interim period to conduct the search for the permanent General Manager.

Metro is in desperate need of an image overhaul and even if Sarles is just temporary, he needs to be perceived as a results oriented leader who will not stand for lax oversight or poor quality control. Those are two factors that most likely led to the June 22, 2009 Red Line crash, which killed nine and injuring eighty . One main cause (allegedly) was the coupling of automatic train control systems which were incompatible with each other. Apparently, repair crews combined newer more advanced equipment with older components already embedded within the system. All of this over multiple objections by machine manufactures and other employees of Metro.

Can Sarles fix this culture? Probably not in the short term, but if he can temporarily right the ship in time for the next general manager, then he's succeeded.