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Friday, March 12, 2010

Transit expert conducts assessment of D.C. Metro

Written by 
February 14, 2001

An international expert on transit systems provided the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Board of Directors with a verbal assessment of the transit agency so that the Board could use that analysis during the transition to an interim and then permanent general manager.

The Board hired David Gunn, a former Metro General Manager and transit expert, to provide an analysis on the current status of Metro, to identify issues of concern and to recommend corrective actions to alleviate the identified concerns. 

Gunn examined the Metro system through interviews with a variety of people throughout Metro, by reviewing documentation, and his personal observations. His assessment identified four major challenges for Metro: 

• Resolve safety issues;

• Recruit a new permanent general manager;

• Deal with deteriorating financial trends; and

• Control escalating MetroAccess subsidies.

"Mr. Gunn's recommendations will help the Board move forward in working with Interim General Manager Richard Sarles and it will help us select the next permanent general manager to head the transit agency," said Metro Board Chairman Peter Benjamin. Sarles will arrive on March 29 as the interim general manager. 

Safety is affected by virtually every aspect of Metro's governance, finance, organization, management and operations, the report noted. Metro needs to regain its strong safety culture throughout the entire organization. Some steps needed are:

• Create a workplace where safety is openly discussed, problems are reported, solved and all employees, supervisors and managers know they can ask for help without fear.

• Provide all employees with the training and knowledge required to be safe and ensure the system is safe.

•Ensure safety is the responsibility of line departments such as signal, track and operations.

•End "shoot the messenger" at all levels of the organization. • Communicate candidly about safety with the public

Financial Issues

On an organizational level, the reports said Metro should:

• Increase direct reports to the general manager for better control and strengthen senior management.

• Merge engineering and maintenance functions around systems (examples: signals, power, track.)

Departmental goals and objectives should include:

• Create an organization with clear responsibility centers.

•Develop with key managers realistic, quantifiable goals tied to capital and operating budgets and hold managers accountable.

• Link personnel allocations more closely to the budget, goals and objectives.

• Monitor monthly reports to assure goals are being met (examples: miles of track, ties, fasteners, joints and turnouts replaced).

The report said the agency should recruit a permanent general manager with a strong operating and technical background. The quality of the next general manager will significantly affect the ability to hire competent senior managers. In addition, Metro should:

• Recruit experienced senior managers with engineering experience to fill many currently open positions.

• Hire and train qualified staff to address the maintenance backlog.

• Overcome the negative impact of reductions in force and early retirements.

• Stop using hiring freezes to control the budget.

In its budget, Metro should introduce new reporting regimen so that quantifiable goals are tied to the capital and operating budgets; prioritize capital and operating budgets by asset class (ex: bus procurement, rail replacement, ties, grouting, etc.); and hold managers accountable to manage the personnel, results and dollars.

The report noted that Metrobus operations are working relatively well. Metrorail operations need attention to reverse current trends. The agency should: 
a. Accelerate track and car maintenance, cleaning and replacement. 
b. Clean tunnels and stations, necessary for equipment reliability and safety. 
c. Generally increase maintenance programs.

The Board and the general manager should agree on the transit authority's agenda, goals and objectives. To provide continuity, the Board chairman should serve a multi-year term. The Board and general manager should adopt and implement bus and rail service standards. The Board and general manager should streamline procurement policies to facilitate acquisitions. And the Board should level with the public regarding the seriousness of the problems facing Metrorail

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