Clarke returns to Washington to lead the nation’s third-largest transit agency through its biggest crisis since 2015. It comes as Metro struggles to attract riders amid a pandemic that has devastated transit budgets. transit agencies across the country as more people transitioned to working from home.
Clarke said Monday her priorities would be to improve service frequency and keep clients safe before addressing longer-term goals, such as the agency’s finances and business model.
“Crawl, walk, run,” he said. “We need to restore service to a reliable and frequent level that everyone can rely on and be truly proud of.”
Clarke’s arrival comes less than two weeks after an internal investigation showed a hiatus in Metro training and recertification involving rail operators occurred, in part because the former director of the Agency operations have prioritized service levels over security requirements. Findings revealed that Metro’s operational leaders granted waivers to several employees due to pandemic-related health issues, then issued subsequent extensions and halted trainings without consulting other department heads.
The discovery of shortcomings among 257 train operators led Metro to pull 72 of its most delinquent operators from work for retraining, creating an employee shortage that slowed train service. The slowdown has become a regional flashpoint, as Metro was already providing reduced service during a car suspension that is now in its ninth month.
The agency’s 7000-series cars – which make up 60% of Metro’s fleet – were retired in October after a defect was discovered in the wheels of several cars, a problem federal investigators say are known among some employees.
The expiration of recertification prompted elected officials, including DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), to question Metro’s direction. Paul J. Wiedefeld, the agency’s chief executive for six years – and who had planned to retire on June 30 – resigned in May amid the wave of criticism. Joseph Leader, then Metro’s chief operating officer, also resigned.
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Around the same time, the agency that regulates Metrorail’s safety issued an order limiting Metro’s ability to turn the track on and off due to repeated instances of non-compliance with safety guidelines.
On Monday, Clarke cited customer concerns he’s heard in recent weeks that he plans to address, including those around public safety, rates and cleanliness. He noted Metro’s history of prioritizing service over safety, despite concerns from regulators and regional leaders, who urged Metro to develop a stronger safety culture.
“You’re not going to hear me tell the difference between service and security,” Clarke said. “I fundamentally believe that if we provide a service, it’s safe. It’s not a choice.
A projected funding shortfall of more than $300 million next year looms in the coming months – the result of falling fare revenues. The financial hole was filled for two years with $2.4 billion in federal coronavirus stimulus funds, but that money will start to run out in July 2023.
Clarke will oversee the opening of the second phase of the Silver Line. Metro took control of the rail extension last month from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, a milestone that raised the possibility that passenger service could begin this fall. Once open, the rail line will extend Metrorail into Loudoun County and include a stop at Dulles International Airport.
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Clarke must also console frustrated passengers and executives who say Metro’s train shortages and reduced service levels are hurting a regional economy trying to recover from the pandemic. Metrorail ridership is about 42% of pre-pandemic levels.
“We know you’re frustrated,” Kate Mattice, executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, told the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board last week. “We are frustrated. Our board members are frustrated.
The commission, which represents Northern Virginia communities that fund Metro, is working on a report to be released this fall intended to help the transit agency survive the funding crunch. Mattice said the report will recommend ways to strengthen safety, regain public trust, create a viable strategy for fare evasion, generate more non-fare revenue and redesign Metro’s fare structure.
The commission also plans to examine the role of Metrobus in Northern Virginia and research where commuter bus systems, such as DASH and Alexandria’s Fairfax Connector, could replace Metrobus service to save money at the agency.
“NVTC will be lobbying Metro to review and identify ways to reduce labor costs,” Mattice said. “Are there better ways to finance Metro? »
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In Maryland, Montgomery County Council Vice Chairman Evan Glass (D-At Large) also urged Clarke to reconsider Metro fares.
“We need to flip the system and encourage more footfall – which may require rethinking the core business model and pricing structure,” Glass wrote in a text message. “Public transit users need safe, reliable and affordable service. These must be top priorities for Mr. Clarke and the Board.
Metro board members said Clarke, 45, is well suited to the challenges ahead. While Metro officials have said little publicly about funding issues, former board members and elected leaders say the agency has four options: cut service, ask for more subsidies, raise fares or try to pass a sales tax for Metro. Any solution could also include a combination of these options.
Paula Edelen, a 52-year-old office manager who commutes to her office in Virginia, said Monday she hopes Clarke will work to improve wait times for trains, which she says are “ridiculous, because it makes you late for work even if you’re on time.” She said she also hopes to see improvements in public safety – especially while waiting for trains – and cleaner stations.
“I just want him to address the immediate issues right now…and then we can move on,” she said. “I just want security all around.”
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Clarke comes to Washington after serving as chief executive of the Austin-based Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Previously, he held various transportation-related positions for more than two decades, including at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston, where he was director of security, and the American Public Transportation Association in Washington.
In Texas, Clarke led Project Connect, a $7 billion expansion of Austin’s bus and rail service through a voter-approved referendum. Metro Board Chairman Paul C. Smedberg cited Clarke’s experience with the project when he announced he would become Metro’s next leader.
clark tweeted a photo himself on Friday aboard a Series 2000 train, the agency’s oldest model car still in use. Several series cars, introduced in 1982, have returned to the system in recent months to replace the sidelined 7000 series cars.
“Just spoke to a family whose kid was on their first train ride and he was so excited,” Clarke tweeted. “It highlights the importance of what we do every day. I can’t wait for him (and everyone else) to see the 7Ks replace those 2Ks.
Clarke said her priority will be getting more customers back into the transit system.
“All I can say to customers is this: I want you back, our staff want you back, our community needs you.”
The public can meet Clarke and other subway leaders between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Monday at two entrances to L’Enfant Plaza station: D Street between 6th and 7th streets and the Plaza Mall Concourse at 9th and D streets.
Morning. I just spoke to a family whose child was on their first train ride and they were so excited. It emphasizes the importance of what we do every day. I can’t wait for him (and everyone else) to see the 7Ks replacing those 2Ks. pic.twitter.com/c2EFRnZ2Rn
—Randy Clarke 🚌🚊🚍 (@wmataGM) July 22, 2022