D.C.'s first 100 days with new Metro CEO Randy Clarke
WMATA CEO Randy Clarke has officially been on the job for 100 days. While most of the big problems he inherited remain – the large budget deficit, the long Metrorail waits – there’s cautious optimism among local leaders that the agency could get Back2Good under his leadership.
Why it matters: The transit system is a lynchpin to our local economy, and it’s up to Clarke to nurse the agency back to health after years of pandemic losses that have weakened riders' trust.
What’s happening: One of Clarke’s most notable changes has been ramping up Metro’s communication with the public, especially compared to former CEO Paul Wiedefeld, who was less outspoken and accessible.
- Clarke has launched a charm offensive on Twitter in particular, often documenting his commute, responding to individual complaints, and taking selfies with riders.
He also aired grievances with the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission over the return of the sidelined 7000 series trains, a move that put pressure on both agencies to come to an agreement and proved successful shortly thereafter.
- WMSC approved Metro’s revamped 7K plans on Oct. 25, less than a week after the public fracas began.
What they're saying: Thirty-five-year Metro employee and ATU Local 689 president Raymond Jackson, who has seen a number of CEOs come and go, says he and Clarke have a standing monthly lunch. He likes the way Clarke engages with WMATA staff and riders so far.
- “Paul was reserved. Randy is very aggressive with his style,” Jackson tells Axios. “He’s a hands-on GM. The frontline workers see him all the time and I think that’s a good thing because you can really get a feel for what’s going on in the workplace when you’re out there with the workers.”
Zoom in: DowntownDC BID leaders tell Axios that they haven’t yet experienced any significant Metro changes in the area since Clarke started, but they are pleased with the progress that’s been made with the 7K trains.
- The group’s CEO Gerren Price says he’s heard from executives with downtown offices who’ve been hesitant to require additional in-person work while Metro service has been slow. “I think bringing those 7000-series trains back is going to make a major difference.”
What’s next: Metro announced that the Silver Line extension will open on Nov. 15. Meanwhile, more 7K trains returning to service should bring a decrease in wait times.
These are big wins, but the agency still has to tackle the $185 million budget deficit. Part of Clarke’s strategy to balance the budget includes fining riders for fare evasion in an effort to recover an estimated $40 million each year.
- The agency will also have to learn how to operate efficiently as droves of Washington workers are still remote.
We interviewed Randy Clarke on Oct. 28. Here’s what he has to say about his first few months on the job. (Responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)
How has your morning commute been?
I hit 200 Metro trips. I'm trying to get out there and meet as many people as possible. I've had a fantastic time, I'd say, 95% of the time. But that's not to suggest that we are where we want to be.
What keeps you up at night?
I'll just be really blunt with this one: We have just so much violence going on. I have 12,000 colleagues that I want to make sure are safe every day.
- Ninety-five percent of our customers are really appreciative of the public service our staff provides. But, we're naturally going to get spillover from larger societal issues. And we have an epidemic of gun violence in America right now. That worries me every day.
What's your strategy to keep your workers and riders safe?
Cameras, compassion, and then cops.
- We have a pretty extensive camera system, and we're going to bolster that more.
- We're hiring what we call a crisis intervention specialist ... the compassionate side of the social service/public safety interface. So trying to have people that are trained to go out and interdict people that are really down on their luck and trying to reconnect them with our partners and social service agencies.
- With the police chief, we put together a whole new redeployment plan for our force. The officers are out all the time now riding trains; that hasn't happened in a long time. We have some on buses, and on stations, and on patrols. So you’re much more likely to see police actually around the system now.
Are regulators tougher on WMATA because it's here in the nation's capital?
We can't be naive to the fact that we are America's transit system. And the people that ultimately decide policy for the country, funding for the country, and even the largest safety oversight groups in the country are here. Therefore, there will always be more eyes on you. And I welcome that. I think that's actually healthy long-term.
- I don't get caught up in people saying there's too many people watching what we do. My goal here is to bring the pride of the region back. And quite frankly, make it boring, because it just operates so well.
What are your biggest priorities moving forward?
The 7000 trains: We need to obviously crawl, walk, run to get that right.
- We officially kicked off a bus network redesign, a vitally important program for us. It's probably been 50 years since this area redesigned its bus network and the bus moves the better part of 300,000 people a day.
- We're working through a lot of ideas for our fare program like a low-income fare program; a different fare structure.
- And then obviously, we got a lot of work to do on our team, how we do our training, empower people in our culture, and build the next generation of leaders.
We're also working on a strategic transformation plan. That's one of our top priorities. We’ve got to get the agency a North Star; it really hasn't had one for a long time.
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