Quo Vadimus, Metro?

Photo courtesy of
‘bumpy concourse’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99’

Thursday afternoon’s resignation of Metro’s John Catoe came as a shock. Having been in a room with Catoe not 24 hours before, I was especially surprised. Catoe did not look like a man defeated by the challenge. Instead, I felt he had likely thought of a plan of action, and stood ready to implement it.

Instead, we are here, rudderless, facing a transit system in its biggest crisis moment. Metro has four very large looming problems that need to be solved in the next calendar year:

  • Finish the Realtime Train Detection System
  • Receive the NTSB Recommendations and fix what hasn’t yet been fixed
  • Deal with a $40M shortfall this FY, and a $160M deficit for 2010-2011
  • Figure out how to fund 300+ new 1000-series cars

And that’s just the subway side of things. Add to that the (largely in good shape, but congested) bus system, and you have a job that should be roughly on par with the Augean Stables. There’s a lot to get done, resources are at a premium, and they’re likely not to expand. So, where do we go from here?

Photo courtesy of
‘Metro streaks’
courtesy of ‘brianmka’

Good question. Metro’s Board doesn’t have a single member that rides the system with regularity, so they’re likely not in the camp for the riders right now. Approximately half the board rides Metro with regularity. They can’t see how bad the rail situation is under current circumstances, because they’re never on the rails themselves. They may pay lip service to participation in the system, but they’re part of the problem. So, where does Metro begin with their search?

I’d start by finding someone who has rail system experience. While Catoe’s bus background would’ve been fine in a system where things were operating well, when the system fell apart, he was short on the concepts at play and made a hash of things. So, it’s time to find someone with significant rail experience.

Perhaps Thomas Margro, former General Manager of BART in San Francisco? Under his tenure there, Margro opened a new airport expansion to SFO (sound familiar?) and dealt with a revamp of electronic ticketing systems (hey, we have one of those…) and lead BART to its strongest customer service rating in history, despite the troubles of the early part of last decade in SF’s transit system. He’s now the Chief Exec with the Orange County Tollroads.

Or maybe MBTA’s Anna Barry who is the Director of Subway Operations? The T is one of the oldest systems in the US, and while there’s not equipment parity with the two, understanding how to handle an old system would be a significant strength. Another option would be TfL’s Director of Planning, Michèle Dix, if we could convince her to leave the British Isles, as she has a strong planning background in a complex transit environment.

As I talked this over with another of our staff, though, why does it need to be someone from inside transit? Is it an internal respect thing? Perhaps a labor relations thing? What Metro needs more than anything else right now is a Steve Jobs. Someone who will come in with high standards for performance, the ability to fire anyone, and the a vision for what Metro could be again. This won’t be a cheap hire for Metro, and it can’t be, if what they want is someone to turn the system on its head and fix the problems that are in front of it.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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3 thoughts on “Quo Vadimus, Metro?

  1. I have two questions:

    1. Why do Japanese rail systems have such a vaunted reputation, and is it deserved?
    2. If it IS deserved… why don’t any American transit authorities hire former Japanese rail managers to run their trains?

    Perhaps it’s just me, but if I think I have large and difficult problems, and I know someone has solved *those exact problems* in the past, I’m going to go ask them for advice instead of bashing my head against the walls.