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New Metro Chief Introduces Himself

The new guy looked pretty good: John B. Catoe Jr., the D.C. native who took over as Metro's general manager last Thursday, held his first press conference this moring to talk about his initial impressions and plans regarding the transit system.

Nothing horrible has happened during his five-day watch, so this wasn't hardball. Still, he did many of the things that suggest his skills as a manager: Respect for his staff, a vision of what he can do to improve its performance, a focus on his customers, powers of observation and a sense that he's responsible for how this all comes together.

His initial attention to the transit system's safety shows not only a good sense of priorities but also of timing, since the recent deaths of track workers and the derailment of a train are so prominent in the minds of transit workers and customers.

Catoe said he wants to analyze current safety measures, see where weaknesses exist, specify new safety measures and launch a very broad and lengthy safety training program for the staff. His goal, he said, is to have all transit employees take ownership of the system's safety.

On our other big issue, the fare increases and service cutbacks that Metro management proposed last month, he said this: "It's my responsibility to present fare and service proposals." What impressed me about that statement was that he could have said something that amounted to, I'm going to review the budget so I can be ready to carry out the board of directors' suggestions about the fare plan proposed by staff before I got here.

A billion dollar budget that affects a region as big and complicated as ours take a long time to prepare, and Catoe is coming in during the middle of that movie. But he clearly wasn't visualizing the outcome as a foregone conclusion.

By the way, his initial observation is that we transit riders are reasonably responsible and well behaved. This may come as a shock to some of my letter writers on Metrorail, but he's noted that we tend to stand clear of the doors and move to the center of the car. I'm feeling better about us already.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 29, 2007; 2:31 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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