- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

Metro’s new general manager, John B. Catoe Jr., says he will make the agency “the premier transit system in the country.”

Though Metro is already the country’s second-largest transit agency, Mr. Catoe will face several challenges to becoming the nation’s best, including resolving financial problems and safety concerns amid a growing ridership and management issues.

Mr. Catoe, a District native who yesterday became the agency’s fourth general manager in less than a year, said his top priorities are safety, customer service and finances.

“While we have a strong safety record, we must have a safety record that is second to none,” Mr. Catoe said. “The quality of our service is good and we have a good system. We are going to take it to the next level.”

One new safety measure will be strobe lights on buses to alert pedestrians and other vehicles to the buses.

Mr. Catoe’s predecessor, acting General Manager Jack Requa, told the agency’s board of directors yesterday there were 41 bus collisions with pedestrians, including five fatalities in fiscal 2006.

Mr. Catoe also has promised to make the quality of Metrobus service comparable to Metrorail’s operation.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, and board Chairman Charles Deegan have expressed confidence in Mr. Catoe.

“John Catoe has outstanding credentials and experience to lead a changing Metro that is customer-service driven and fiscally responsible,” Mr. Deegan said.

Mr. Catoe’s efforts to improve safety follow several recent accidents.

On Jan. 7, a Green Line train derailed near the Mount Vernon Square/Seventh Street-Convention Center station, injuring 20 passengers and prompting a massive emergency response that was delayed by a communication problem. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating that incident.

In November, an investigation found a train operator failed to follow procedures when two Metro track workers were struck and killed by an out-of-service train in Alexandria.

Now, a projected $116 million deficit in the fiscal 2008 budget has board members considering fare increases.

Mr. Catoe has 26 years of experience in the transit industry and had been deputy chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 2001, before taking the Metro post in November. He has agreed to a three-year deal in which he will earn $300,000 annually and receive a $5,000 monthly living allowance, according to his contract.

Metro has about 10,000 employees, more than 1,400 buses, nearly 1,000 rail cars and 86 Metrorail stations, according to a document on the agency’s Web site. Metro’s combined bus and rail ridership in fiscal 2006 was 337 million.

Mr. Requa was preceded by interim General Manager Dan Tangherlini, who left in October to serve as city administrator for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Mr. Tangherlini took with him several senior-level executives, which leaves Mr. Catoe with critical vacancies to fill.

Mr. Tangherlini took over after Richard A. White, the longest-serving general manager in Metro’s history, stepped down in January 2006.

Mr. White arrived in 1996 after heading the Bay Area Rapid Transit rail system in San Francisco and working with the New Jersey Transit Corp.

He oversaw vastly increased ridership and the completion of the originally planned 103-mile Metrorail system, among other accomplishments. In February 2005, an international review panel said the Metrorail system was the best in the country.

However, many of the agency’s setbacks were during Mr. White’s tenure, including a 2004 scandal in which parking lot cashiers at subway stations were accused of stealing millions of dollars in parking fees.

Customers also absorbed fare increases in 2003 and 2004. By then, broken elevators and escalators were the norm at subway stations.

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