WASHINGTON – After a tumultuous year since then-general manager Richard Sarles announced his resignation and interim GM Jack Requa took over, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) has finally found its match. On Thursday, WMATA formally announced and swore in Paul J. Wiedefeld as its new GM and chief executive officer. Wiedefeld will begin […]
WASHINGTON – After a tumultuous year since then-general manager Richard Sarles announced his resignation and interim GM Jack Requa took over, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) has finally found its match.
On Thursday, WMATA formally announced and swore in Paul J. Wiedefeld as its new GM and chief executive officer. Wiedefeld will begin work on Nov. 30 and will make $397,500 per year.
“I wake up every morning and go to sleep every night thinking about safety and we have to make sure everything we do in between makes Metro even safer,” Wiedefeld said. “I am absolutely confident we can run our buses and trains safely and get people to work on time.”
Wiedefeld has plenty of work ahead of him. WMATA’s satisfaction ratings, according to a self-conducted poll, are just 67 percent for the metro rail system and 82 percent for the metro bus system. Their goals for customer satisfaction are 84 percent for each system.
WMATA’s on-time performance is lacking in both systems as well, according to their polls.
The rail system is only meeting its on-time performance only 82.2 percent of the time, while the bus system meets their on-time performance goal just 78.5 percent of the time. The on-time performance goal for the bus system sits at 79 percent, but for the rail system the goal is 91 percent.
Despite the amount of improvement Metro’s systems will need, WMATA Board of Directors Chairman Mortimer Downey said he is confident in Wiedefeld’s ability because of his background serving in transportation.
“Paul’s three decades of public and private sector transportation management experience will serve him as he manages day-to-day operations of Metro,” Downey said. “Paul has provided sound leadership at Baltimore International Airport (BWI) and the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and the board unanimously agrees that his record proves he is the right person to lead Metro.
Wiedefeld’s goal will be improving the rider experience and “restoring credibility” with regional stakeholders, Downey said.
Wiedefeld was previously the chief of BWI from 2002 to 2005. He left BWI to become the head of the MTA, but returned to BWI in 2009. Wiedefeld was released by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this year.
Taking over WMATA is an exciting challenge, Wiedefeld said. He is looking forward to working with everyone and moving into the future.
His immediate priorities, he said, will be safety and security. Safety is something that has to be addressed “constantly,” and it must be enforced.
“We should never deal with some of the issues we’ve been dealing with,” Wiedefeld said. “It will be part of our culture and we’ll get that in order very quickly.”
Reliability will be a second priority for WMATA, Wiedefeld said, right after safety. Metro will approach their reliability issues with “razor sharp” precision.
Riders are frustrated when WMATA does not perform well, and that is an organizational problem, Wiedefeld said. When they do not perform well, the entire region is affected.
However, he said, behind his leadership, WMATA will get back to being a “world class” agency once again.
“A lot of the issues we’ve gotten have not come overnight and will not be solved overnight,” Wiedefeld said. “In talking to a number of people, the unfortunate fact is we’ve lost our credibility as an agency, and to be frank, as a board.”
On Tuesday, the WMATA Riders Union announced via Twitter their first formal meeting with Wiedefeld will be held on Dec. 14. He will be available to hear the concerns of riders and what they would like to see moving into the future.
Wiedefeld met with the Riders Union on Friday to hear from them and set up a time where he could hear the concerns voice from the riders.
In a statement, the Riders Union said they are positive about Wiedefeld as the new GM and said they are looking forward to hearing his plans for WMATA’s improvement.
Riders union Vice Chairman Graham Jenkins said putting WMATA’s fiscal house in order is important, but not the most important priority for the organization.
“The mission of the authority – to provide mobility to the entire region – is even more critical,” Jenkins said.
The reliability of WMATA’s service is their core function, the Riders Union said in their statement, and the need to regain citizen trust is apparent.
Finally, Wiedefeld said, they will have to fix address their fiscal issues. Getting their fiscal house in order is necessary for the advancement and improvement of the organization as a whole.
But in order to solve all of the issues, time will be an important factor.
In order to regain their credibility, Wiedefeld said, the elements of partnership need to be consistent between the GM and the board, the employees, the federal oversight agencies and even with the customers WMATA services.
“All of us have to attack this together and I know we will,” Wiedefeld said.