Metro General Manager Richard A. White, scheduled to appear before a congressional committee today, plans to tell committee members it will take time and patience to change the culture at the transit agency.
Mr. White told The Washington Times yesterday that the problems at Metro cannot be solved overnight.
Mr. White, several Metro board members and a number of transit-industry officials are all scheduled to appear before the House Government Reform District of Columbia subcommittee, which is headed by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican.
The hearing was called by Mr. Davis after a series of incidents raised concerns about Metro safety.
“This summer alone has seen a flurry of incidents, which have inconvenienced passengers and in some cases downright frightened them,” Mr. Davis said in a prepared statement released before today’s hearing.
A congressional oversight hearing for Metro is almost unheard of, but Mr. Davis said he wanted explanations for problems with “escalators, persistent overcrowding on buses and trains and fires in Metro tunnels.”
Metro’s problems, Mr. Davis said, seem to extend beyond aging infrastructure and record-high ridership levels.
“[The] subcommittee remains concerned that [Metro] faces persistent systemic problems that will hinder its expansion and progress,” he states.
Mr. White said he thinks the hearing will allow Metro to tell its story of how the transit agency is reforming a top-heavy and hierarchical corporate structure and dealing with problems brought on by increased ridership on both bus and rail, as well as the aging of its subway system.
“We need to find a way to filter down [reforms] faster,” Mr. White said. “It’s a pretty big job even at Fortune 500 companies. You need to show that you are making incremental results.”
Others scheduled to testify include Metro Board members Gladys W. Mack, Christopher Zimmerman and Decatur Trotter. Federal Transit Administration chief Nuria Fernandez will also speak before the subcommittee, as will industry representatives.
In his testimony, Mr. White expects to make the case that some of the difficulties facing Metro are beyond an administrator’s control.
“We are … contending with the dual challenges of unprecedented ridership growth and aging system infrastructure,” Mr. White said.
In his prepared statement, Mr. Davis is critical of Metro’s response to a series of tunnel fires and cites overall communication problems the transit agency has had during emergencies.
A July braking problem that left rush-hour passengers stranded for more than 15 minutes on a Red Line train near the Farragut North station was a “fiasco,” Mr. Davis said.
“There was no communication with the passengers to let them know the reason for the delay,” Mr. Davis states. “[The] July tunnel incident could have resulted in serious injury to passengers.”
Now in the fourth year of a six-year contract, Mr. White said he hopes to convince Congress that his agency is trying to correct long-standing problems.
“During the first three or four years, you do worse than before,” Mr. White said of the timeline for a typical business to be turned around. “You slide a little bit behind before you catch up.”