General Manager John Catoe is ending his tumultuous three-year run as the head of Metro.
Metro said Catoe informed the Board of Directors Thursday of his decision to "retire." His last day will be April 2.
“I have decided that it is time for me to channel my future in new directions and provide this organization an opportunity to move beyond the current distractions,” Catoe said in a Metro press release. “Good leaders know how to impact change. Great leaders know when it’s time for leadership change. I hope I fall into the latter category.”
“The Board of Directors has just been informed of General Manager Catoe’s decision to retire,” Board Chairman Jim Graham said in the release. “We appreciate his stewardship during this difficult time and we will miss his leadership. While we regret his decision, he continues to have the full confidence of the Board of Directors.
“We will shortly begin the deliberative process on transition and succession,” Graham said.
Catoe has no retirement package with Metro, according to NBC4's Tom Sherwood, although he would have if he remained until the end of his contract, which runs until 2013.
Whether you call it a resignation or a retirement, Catoe's announcement came after a series of accidents on the failing transit system during his tenure, including the most deadly in Metro's history. The Red Line crash on June 22, 2009, killed nine people. Trains continue to run in manual mode because the system is deemed unsafe to run automatically.
Besides safety issues, Metro is also dealing with serious budget issues. Metro is trying to make up for a $40 million budget shortfall due in part to a drop in ridership over the past year. According to Metro, early morning ridership is down. The transit agency is blaming that on the high unemployment rate. The multiple fatal crash on the Red Line didn't help, either.
And that is just to avoid cuts to a transit system in dire need of cash for safety changes and other upgrades, as highlighted by the June crash and iterated and reiterated by a couple of employee deaths and the Tri-State Oversight Committee's recent revelation about a safety inspector dodging a train last month.
Metro also hopes to avoid layoffs by not filling vacancies, officials said. A public hearing on fare increases and service cuts will take place on the evening of Jan. 27. Metro board members will vote on the changes on Jan. 28.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said that when Catoe's predecessor was forced out, Catoe inherited a transit system in "deep crisis," and kept Metro running while Congress waited to authorize crucial funding. The first 10 percent of that funding, she said, only arrived a few weeks ago.
"In stepping aside, Mr. Catoe has taken a principled step based on his view that new leadership would better focus the public on the challenges at hand," she said. "He may be right that the time has come for a crisis manager, but considering the perfect storm of a recession, decreasing ridership, increasing capital costs and the need for new revenue, Metro will be fortunate, indeed, to find a new general manager not only equal to the task, but desirous of taking it on."
Meanwhile, Transit Union 689 President Jackie Jeter is worried about what the future holds for passengers and employees.
"As a lame duck general manager, John Catoe is not likely to be able to provide either direction or oversight and in a system with so many issues, I fear that things will spiral out of control," Jeter said. "Who is left to decide and oversee those decisions that must be made to help ensure a safe, productive mass transit system?"