Metro welcomed its new general manager, Randy Clarke, Monday, as he takes over after the transit agency's previous GM retired sooner than expected.
While Paul Wiedefeld was planning to retire, he departed Metro weeks earlier than expected, along with the agency's chief operating officer, Joe Leader, after a report found that many rail operators' recertifications had lapsed.
On Monday morning, Clarke took his first commute on Metro, from the Foggy Bottom station to Metro headquarters at L’Enfant Plaza. On Twitter, he said listening to customers is his top priority.
Clarke comes from the transit system in Austin, Texas, and is going to be taking over a troubled agency at the moment, News4 transportation reporter Adam Tuss said.
Notably, Clarke's got to get riders to come back to the system. Metro is currently at 35% of its pre-pandemic ridership.
Reporter Adam Tuss and the News4 team are covering you down on the roads and in transit.
"I think that we can fix everything we want. We can go through platforms, fixes, we can go through train fixes, buses, whatever. But none of that matters if the riders don't come back," Tuss noted.
"And if Metro can't get those riders to come back, a lot falls apart. Financials fall apart. The system itself falls apart. Do you need those trains and buses; all that kind of factors into it," Tuss said.
Clarke's appointment may have come as a surprise to some, Tuss noted.
"You might think of someone coming from New York City or San Francisco or Chicago or Boston, something along those lines," Tuss said, "so an Austin, Texas, pick — while a little bit outside-the-box — is also a little bit maybe not the choice that you would think was going to happen, but we're going have to see, you know, who Randy Clarke is, what he can provide to the job. I do know from talking to Metro's board chair, they liked his youth a little bit. They'd like to get his flash, they'd like his media presence, a little bit of his savvy, and they liked some of the ideas that he was presenting in Austin, Texas."
"One of the things that he was really trying to do was come up with this green fleet of vehicles in Austin," Tuss said. "Obviously, [Austin is] a much much smaller system, but that's something that Metro has also been trying to do."
That includes the electrification of buses, pushes for greener trains, buses and stations, and better storm water management.
Wiedefeld's Early Retirement Came After Metrorail Operators Recertification Lapse
Metro's previous general manager, Paul Wiedefeld, stepped down after Metro announced it would remove 72 train operators from service for retraining and overdue recertification. The move led to lengthy delays on the Green and Yellow lines.
Wiedefeld was supposed to retire at the end of June but handed in his resignation in mid-May. Andy Off served as interim general manager and CEO until Clarke took over Monday.
“Nearly half of Metro’s 500 rail operators” had lapsed recertification, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) said.
Sources with direct knowledge of the training process said there was no way that Metro leaders didn’t know so many train operators needed to complete safety courses. The training includes classroom-style teachings and real-world scenarios and problem-solving such as how to respond to issues with doors or brakes.