The board of the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority today approved a motion to enter into a contract with Paul J. Wiedefeld as Metro’s next general manager, a move that will replace Interim General Manager and CEO Jack Requa. Requa has held that position for ten months.
In an official announcement, Metro says the board voted unanimously to approve Wiedefeld, 60, whom it will formally appoint in two weeks. He was most recently the CEO of the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, directing the largest expansion in the airport’s history. The announcement follows weeks of speculation over who would be selected as Metro’s next general manager, including a recent leak to the media that Neal Cohen, a former defense and airline executive, was the transit agency’s top pick. (Cohen is said to have pulled out of negotiations with Metro’s board on Monday in large part because he was unwilling to endure intense public scrutiny.) Metro faces some of the worst customer-satisfaction ratings it’s every gotten, and Metrorail ridership continues to fall.
“I am humbled and excited to learn of the Board’s unanimous support, but believe it is inappropriate to comment further until the Board takes its final action at the November 19th meeting,” Wiedefeld said in a statement this afternoon through Metro.
In addition to BWI, Wiedefeld’s decades-long career in transportation has spanned the Maryland Transit Administration (which runs the MARC trains) as well as Parsons Brinckerhoff, a private engineering firm. Requa will continue to serve in his current post until Nov. 19.
Concurrent to the Metro board’s approval of Wiedefeld are rumors that reigning chairman Mortimer Downey was asked to resign. In the board’s meeting this afternoon, Downey denied those rumors, adding that he’ll at least serve through the rest of his term, which is up for renewal in January. “It’s important for our new chief executive to have these resources at his disposal to ensure we are strengthening Metro’s operations and business management, while improving safety compliance and restoring service reliability,” Downey said in a statement through Metro.
The transit agency says consultancies McKinsey & Company and Ernst & Young have begun their “top-to-bottom” review of Metro’s finances and management practices, with an efficiency study.
Update 2:27 p.m.: Public officials in the DMV region are starting to react to Wiedefeld’s appointment. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signals his approval of the former airport CEO, saying in a statement:
“I am pleased to see that the WMATA Board has unanimously chosen Paul Wiedefeld to lead the agency as its General Manager and Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Wiedefeld’s significant experience in managing safety and operations in the transit industry will surely serve him well as he steps into his role with Metro. I am hopeful that this appointment, though overdue, will give WMATA the stability and expertise it needs to produce meaningful change across the agency. I look forward to Mr. Wiedefeld’s formal confirmation by the Board on November 19th.”
Update 2:43 p.m.: Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s official Twitter account has tweeted the following about today’s news:
DC looks forward to working with incoming @wmata GM Wiedefeld, we have a lot of work to do delivering safe, reliable transit to the region.
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) November 5, 2015
Update 4:07 p.m.: D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says in a statement that Metro should improve with “an actual leader in place” and praises Wiedefeld’s background:
“The transit agency should be strengthened by Mr. Wiedefeld’s combination of public and private sector experience, both of which have been close to home. His service as Administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration, a major multi-model transit system that has many similarities to WMATA, and his operational experience as CEO of the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport mean he has succeeded in the eye of the storm. ”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery