Metro’s General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has grand ambitions for the troubled authority, wanting to make it “at a minimum, the best transit system in the U.S.”

Speaking at the National Press Club on Monday after he released a plan to “restore pride” in Metro and published an op-ed explaining his vision in the Washington Post, Wiedefeld said the agency will take actions to prioritize customer satisfaction and safety. Among those: hiring a new chief safety officer, installing radio and cell-phone cables throughout the rail system, increasing police presence at stations and on buses, and bringing new 7000-series rail cars into service.

“[There are] quite a bit of silos and turf issues” within Metro, the GM explained of the agency’s internal workings. “With the new organizational structure, I’m basically tearing that down.”

During his appearance with NPC President Thomas Burr, Wiedefeld said he wants to focus on the “nuts and bolts” of operating Metro, such as fixing and maintaining the roughly 30 “sharp curves” in the rail system and better managing crowded platforms through staff who will serve busy stops, above-ground service information, and a tap-in/tap-out option. The GM also said he’s aiming to boost morale among Metro’s front-line workers, like station attendants and bus drivers.

Still, the authority must complete a “backlog of work,” including complying with corrective safety actions issued by the Federal Transit Administration and the Tri-State Oversight Commission, composed of regional representatives. To stay transparent, Metro has created a “Customer Accountability Report,” which will get updated as the agency makes progress, Wiedefeld said. It has dozens of actions organized according to three categories: safety, reliability, and fiances.

“For Metro to fulfill its potential as an economic engine driving this region to be more globally competitive, we have to work on parallel tracks to hold down costs while establishing long-term revenue strategies that fund the level of bus and rail service that meets the needs of our communities,” the general manager explained in a statement issued on Monday.

Some of Metro’s other planned actions to improve operations include:

  • “Launch traffic signal prioritization to improve performance for buses along seven busy corridors
  • Deliver a timely financial audit for [fiscal year] 2016
  • Cut back-office costs and redundant positions
  • Reduce overhead costs through public-private partnerships for select paratransit trips and parking management
  • Analyze revenue potential from sale of Metro headquarters building that can be reprogrammed for customer service initiatives
  • Develop a mobile ‘app’ that provides customers easier access to train and bus departures, trip planning, and other information on demand”

Financially, Metro has ratcheted down its capital plan from $1.1 billion to “a more realistic” $950 million, the agency announced today. Board members and local jurisdictions are considering how to provide the agency a steady source of funding: “Metro would require a combination of operating subsidies and passenger fare increases of about six percent annually over the next 10 years just to keep pace with cost growth for existing service levels,” according to the agency.

“The way I view the system is that we are in a region that’s competing globally,” Wiedefeld said today. “Metro is one of the tools to help this region compete globally. Unless we think in those terms, it makes it harder for us to compete.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery