- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. yesterday said he will consider eliminating jobs to avoid fare increases and cutbacks in service.

He hasn’t ruled out the agency’s third fare increase in five years but first wants to exhaust possible cost-cutting measures.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have fare increases, but before we do, we need to look at every position we have in the organization to make sure it’s absolutely necessary,” Mr. Catoe told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

Mr. Catoe earlier in the day attended the funeral of Martha Schoenborn, 59, who was hit and killed last Wednesday in Northwest by a Metrobus. The bus driver was charged with negligent homicide.

Three pedestrians were killed in less than a week in two accidents involving Metro buses. They were among seven pedestrians who have been killed in the past nine months.

Mr. Catoe said safety is the ultimate priority, even at the expense of bus schedules.

“I don’t want operators rushing,” he said. “Let me deal with the public and the media” if buses run late.

Mr. Catoe said supervisors will soon begin monitoring buses’ speeds with radar guns.

“The cost of these tragedies to the families of the victim and to our drivers and their families has been too high,” he said. “We have to put an end to it now.”

Mr. Catoe, who took over Metro last month, had been the deputy chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 2001.

He promised to implement more safety measures, including ordering bus operators and supervisors to meet for at least one day each year to discuss and emphasize pedestrian safety.

The Metro board of directors approved that plan and one to create a five-year safety program for Metro drivers and personnel.

Mr. Catoe, a D.C. native, is the agency’s fourth general manager in less than a year. He succeeded interim agency head Jack Requa. Mr. Requa served briefly after the resignation in October of Dan Tangherlini, now the District’s city administrator, who took over from Richard A. White in February 2006.

Mr. White, Metro’s last permanent general manager, left in January 2006 after having run Metro for 9 years.

Mr. White, the longest-serving general manager in the agency’s history, oversaw a 37 percent increase in ridership and the completion of the 103-mile Metrorail system.

In February 2005, an international review panel rated Metrorail the best subway system in the nation.

However, Mr. White also presided over back-to-back fare increases in 2003 and 2004 and a November 2004 Red Line train collision at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station in Northwest that injured 20 persons. Riders often faced delayed and overcrowded buses and trains, and elevators and escalators at subway stations were frequently out of service.

Mr. White assumed responsibility for much of the agency’s recent troubles but also criticized the lack of a dedicated federal funding source.

Mr. Catoe yesterday said that a dedicated funding source would help give the aging system a much-needed face-lift, but it wouldn’t be a cure-all for the agency’s budgetary woes or eliminate the need for fare increases because federal funding doesn’t cover operational expenses.

The agency’s fiscal 2008 budget has a deficit of $64.1 million.

Mr. Catoe said Salt Lake City-based Gayland Moffat Consulting Inc. is completing a comprehensive review of Metro’s budget and operations and is expected to deliver its report by mid-April.

Eliminating nonessential or unnecessary positions will help trim the agency’s budget, which is strained by rising fuel, health care and maintenance costs, Mr. Catoe said.

“We can’t take the federal government’s mentality that we keep everyone forever,” he said. “It will be a dramatic impact to the levels of staffing.”

He also expressed a desire to test the elimination of part-time probation periods for new bus operators, a move that he said could ultimately save money by cutting back the need for overtime.

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