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Metro's New Boss Faces Challenges

The start of Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.'s term got caught up in widespread concerns about a spate of accidents involving buses and pedestrians. Yesterday, as his staff handed summaries to reporters of what had been accomplished during his first 100 days, he was explaining a major failure on the Green Line that stalled thousands of commuters during the morning rush.

Sometimes during these few months, he said, he had asked himself what he was doing here. "But then I realized what I was doing here," Catoe said. He was here "to fix what was broken."

Yesterday's status report on the trains and buses got caught up in the crisis of the moment on the Green Line, which you can read about in Lena Sun's story today. With 37,422 travelers aboard the Green Line during the morning rush, Metro's boss realized the importance of directly addressing their frustrations.

Catoe, who calculated that 97 percent of his own travels are on transit, has a good sense of what's on the minds of his fellow riders: "At some point," he said, "apologies don't work. They just want it fixed."

The new GM is trying to shift Metro from an organization split between construction and operations to one that focuses on operations. The next big addition to the Metrorail system, the Dulles line, will be the first construction project not supervised by Metro. (Last night, Loudoun County joined Fairfax in approving the first phase of the project through Tysons. Sandhya Somashekhar wrote about that in today's Post.)

Catoe is still setting up the management team and the lines of authority within Metro that he believes will enhance safety and customer service, two essential goals he's set for the organization. He hopes, for example, that his new setup will make it less likely that Metro will repeat the problems it's having getting new rail cars and rehabilitating others. (Essential reading: Lena Sun's story in today's Post about the rail car shortage.)

We didn't spend much yesterday addressing what Catoe sees as the upside of his early tenure, so here's a summary of what he sees as the accomplishments of the past few months:

Safety-- Metro launched a safety program to reduce accidents by half within five years, "changing the culture of the organization and increasing accountability."
-- Increased training of bus operators.
-- Placing more responsibility and accountability on supervisors.

-- Avoided a 2007 fare increase in part by eliminating 220 positions.
-- Launched management initiatives designed to reduce overtime and related costs.
-- Required executives to ride bus and rail. (He said some were caught up in yesterday's rail delays.)

-- Hiring up to 40 additional full time bus drivers and 10 bus supervisors to reduce crowding on heavily used routes and cut overtime.
-- Launched MetroExtra bus service to speed travel along Georgia Avenue.
-- Expanded NextBus information service.
-- Began accepting credit cards to pay for parking at six facilities.
-- Added information signs at the entrances to rail stations.
-- Began testing spring loaded overhead handles on a rail car.
-- Installing red platform lights to enhance safety.
-- Added MetroAccess staff and new vehicles.
-- Launched a new outreach effort to improve student behavior on trains and buses.

It's a pretty good list for a few months. Next test: Will the Green Line be able to handle extra ridership during the July-August shutdown of South Capitol Street's Douglass Bridge over the Anacostia River?

By Robert Thomson  |  June 20, 2007; 8:59 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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