Transportation Expert Blogger and former New Jersey Transit chief Rich Sarles has just been named interim general manager of the troubled Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, largely because Metro officials believe he can start making needed changes while they search for a new permanent leader for the system.
In the past year, Metro saw nine people killed, including the train operator, when a moving train crashed into one stopped on the tracks in June; a track worker doing maintenance work killed in August; and two more workers killed by a maintenance vehicle in January.
On March 4, the Federal Transit Administration issued a hard-hitting safety audit of Metro and the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which oversees the system's safety. The audit found both the oversight board and Metro's safety department seriously lacking in authority, resources, expertise, and effective communication internally and with each other.
The 34-year-old system also faces daunting funding challenges. Planned expansions mean its future needs are great, but it lacks a dedicated funding source to cover the 45 percent of its operating budget that fares and advertising do not. The federal government provides $150 million a year in special capital support for safety investments, matched by local contributions from dedicated sources. In return for this funding stream, created to reflect the federal government's dependence on Metro to move its thousands of employees, the Metro board was required to add four federal appointees (two voting and two non-voting) to strengthen oversight of the agency. Transportation Expert Blogger Mort Downey was appointed to one of the voting seats.
Given Metro's many problems and the expectation that Mr. Sarles can effect change during his brief tenure, what advice would you give him? How should he go about tackling Metro's safety problems, which FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff said "will only be solved through a top-to-bottom change in the safety culture and focus at Washington Metro"? Can he do enough to satisfy members of Congress from the region, who have called for a federal takeover of the system if its safety record doesn't improve soon?