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What would you ask WMATA's new CEO?

WMATA will be hosting a blogger roundtable this evening with now-permanent General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles, just before he attends the Riders' Advisory Council meeting.

The last blogger roundtable. Photo by erin m on Flickr.

Ken Archer and I will be attending for GGW. We intend to ask Sarles about safety and security issues, including the bag search program, as well as his vision for the medium- and long-term future of Metro. What else do you think we should ask?

Leave your questions in the comments.

Afterward, Sarles will speak at the public Riders' Advisory Council meeting, which starts at 6:30 pm in the lobby level committee room at WMATA HQ.

Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 


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Decoupling the Orange-Blue lines (as well as other capital expansions). Does he think Metro is a finished product, if not when does he see expansion happening?

Bikes on reverse commute trains BART.

by David C on Feb 2, 2011 11:37 am • linkreport

What's in your bag? Stand here, miss your train and open it now.

by Sean Carr on Feb 2, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

Oh, where to start...To begin:

1) In lieu of the recent attacks on riders in Metro stations and trains, why is MTPD focusing on non-specific threats by randomly searching bags of riders?

2) What is your 5 year or 10 year plan for Metro? Any expansion, enhancement of existing service, etc?

3) Will Metro riders be facing any new rate hikes soon?

4) If you had unlimited funds, where would you choose to build a new Metro line or station?

by John M on Feb 2, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

Maybe ask him if he plans on doing the lunchtime online chats like White, Tangherlini, and Catoe did.

by Steven Yates on Feb 2, 2011 11:41 am • linkreport

What are your plans for encouraging a more cooperative, friendly attitude from Metro employees? Station managers in particular are generally grumpy and not very receptive to questions.

by OX4 on Feb 2, 2011 11:45 am • linkreport

I would ask Mr. Sarles:

(1) Have you and the Board created a unified Enterprise Risk Management plan based on an acceptable industry standard such as ISO or COSO? If not, why not?

(2) How much money and time will it take to complete the various phases of that plan?

(3) How will you go about funding the system? What will you do to make sure you get enough money to safely and efficiently run WMATA?

(4) How will you strengthen and improve WMATA's ability to avoid problems before they occur and to respond to criticism? Are your internal auditors/OIG and external auditors performing well enough to support the enterprise?

For links to support (1) see:


by WRD on Feb 2, 2011 11:46 am • linkreport

Since your arrival as interim GM, what has surprised you the most about the Washington system.

How would you compare governance with NJ?

How would you compare finances with NJ?

How do perceive changing the physical structure of the WMATA rail system to accommodate future growth?

From your perspective , who should spearhead regional planning for metrobus and rail ? Do you believe that WMATA will continue to operate a combined bus and rail system?

by Interested on Feb 2, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

Will WMATA ever build a tunnel linking Farragut North to Farragut West so people transferring lines can skip Metro Center? That should ease some congestion in the system.

by Garrett Peck on Feb 2, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

I would ask him if he could take 20 minutes one day and read at least the first quarter of The Checklist Manifesto.

It's about mastering the fundamentals.

by Jazzy on Feb 2, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

Guys -- let's keep these QUESTIONS, rather than pointed accusations with question marks on the end. (That said, I'd fully support asking Sean's question!)

With track maintenance becoming a fairly regular occurrence,
does WMATA have any plans to standardize on the Express Train strategy outlined 2 days ago on GGW when singletracking is in effect?

Crowding on the westbound Red Line platforms at Gallery Place is becoming an increasingly severe and dangerous issue. Frequently, train operators will close the doors and depart before everybody has boarded. Does WMATA have any plans to address this situation?

What are your thoughts on the design process behind the 7000-series railcars? Many of the designs proposed would trade passenger comfort for capacity. Where do you draw the line?

On a similar note, these cars will be losing the iconic brown stripe. What will Metro be doing to keep its brand identity strong and unique into the 21st Century?

If Maryland or Virginia decide to follow through on their threats to reduce their share of funding, how will Metro respond? Will trains be turned back at the border?

Let's talk data visualization:
Obviously, the map will need an update in 2012 when the Silver Line opens, and some major changes will be necessary to cram everything into the downtown portion. Will there be an open/collaborative process to collect feedback on potential new designs? The current map has a blatant spelling error, and wrong addresses for several stations.

After PoTP went into effect, the fare charts became nigh incomprehensible. Are you considering any plans to simplify these charts and/or the fare structure? Also, how's PoTP working out?

Are there any plans to update the software behind the PID Displays to accurately reflect singletracking, and trains that have not yet departed from the terminus?

Ghost buses. What is WMATA doing to fix this problem? Are you working with DDOT and other agencies to get electronic arrival information displays installed at major stops?

by andrew on Feb 2, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

Some great questions everyone! I'm sure we won't be able to cover everything in an hour, but keep them coming, if several subjects stand out, we'll try to concentrate on those.

by Erik Weber on Feb 2, 2011 12:21 pm • linkreport

1) Are there any plans to increase the use of 8-car runs during rush hours?

2) Is the rationale for only running the yellow to Mt. Vernon Sq during rush hour still viable despite increased ridership to stops further north?

3) Are there any options available to improve the incredibly slick nature of metro floors when they are wet?

by Andrew on Feb 2, 2011 12:23 pm • linkreport

When we can expect his resignation.

Bag searches, assaults, equipment damaging tracks, holiday closures...he's as bad as Catoe.

by Redline SOS on Feb 2, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport


I can answer some of those.

1) There are plans, but they take money. Metro needs more rail cars to run 8 car trains, and they also need traction power upgrades.

2) There are only two options for the Yellow line during rush hour - turn around at Mount Vernon Sq, or go all the way to Greenbelt.

There aren't enough cars to go to Greenbelt. Likewise, trains during rush hours are frequent enough that turning around requires a pocket track, and the only pocket track on the line is just to the north of Mount Vernon Square.

Trains can turn at Fort Totten during off-peak hours because trains are less frequent and there is time to turn a train without blocking the tracks.

by Alex B. on Feb 2, 2011 12:38 pm • linkreport

1. What has he done differently than John Catoe?

2. If someone turns down a bag search, how will they be prevented from entering the system at a different station? And does Sarles consider this loophole to be a serious problem with the bag search protocol?

by BeyondDC on Feb 2, 2011 12:38 pm • linkreport

Why does metro seem to higher the laziest individuals in the dc area with worst attitude/customer service.

by Mike on Feb 2, 2011 12:39 pm • linkreport

3. Hypothetically speaking, can Sarles think of any better use for the federal security grant money WMATA received that is funding the bag searches?

by BeyondDC on Feb 2, 2011 12:41 pm • linkreport

sorry I meant to say hire i cant spell

by Mike on Feb 2, 2011 12:41 pm • linkreport

When will Metro start to be a good citizen and shovel the snow on the sidewalks that are on its property (i.e., its land along Yuma St.) but not immediately connected to a metro station.

by Dave on Feb 2, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

Ditto everything Andrew proposed. All very good questions.

I would like to add:

Will there be any efforts to replace short escalators with good ole staircases? I suspect staircases will help in funneling crowds in and out of stations with greater ease. Escalators are far too narrow.

by Jessica on Feb 2, 2011 1:00 pm • linkreport

1. One of the stated justifications for the bag search program is that it is funded by a Department of Homeland Security grant rather than WMATA funds. Will this grant also cover the cost of defending or settling the lawsuits this program is virtually guaranteed to generate and has DHS, TSA or any other federal agency agreed to indemnify WMATA should one or more bag search suit be successful?

2. In light of WMATA's current (and likely future) budget situation and labor/pension costs do you intend to ask for concessions from the ATU? If so, how do you intend to get them?

3. Nearly a year ago you said "I don't want to hide problems. That's the worst thing you can do." In that time what have you done to increase transparency? What further steps do you intend to take in this area over the next year?

4. To date no WMATA official has given a direct unequivocal answer to the question "what will happen when someone selected for a bag search refuses and attempts to leave the station." Will you?

by Jacob on Feb 2, 2011 1:01 pm • linkreport

What specific plans do you have to increase safety of pedestrians near your buses? As Metro buses run red lights on a daily basis, it seems like another pedestrian will be killed sooner rather than later. Are red-light running and other forms of aggressive driving (cutting off cars, for example) tolerated by Metro management? Do drivers face any financial consequences (loss of pay, demotion, or firing) if observed running red lights?

by Dan on Feb 2, 2011 1:38 pm • linkreport

WMATA's pension and health care expenditures are increasing at an unsustainable rate. What, if anything, do you plan to do about these costs?

by EJ on Feb 2, 2011 2:22 pm • linkreport

Why is police visibility on Metro so much lower than it is on the New York subway, which faces similar crime and terrorism threats? What does Metro plan to do to change this?

by Phil on Feb 2, 2011 2:59 pm • linkreport

I think that BeyondDC and Redline are right on the money - though their questions probably need to be phrased differently. I would like to hear from Sarles as to how he sees his administration of Metro as better than (or at least different from) that of Catoe's.

by Shipsa01 on Feb 2, 2011 3:04 pm • linkreport

1. How often do you ride Metrorail and Metrobus?

2. Will WMATA more readily support options other that parking to get to its stations? I.E. more bike parking, access more pedestrian-friendly access?

by Randall M. on Feb 2, 2011 3:10 pm • linkreport

How and when is WMATA going to address the inaccuracy of the PIDS arrival estimates? This has been going on for months now. Even worse, of course, is that they are inaccurate in the wrong direction.

WMATA users are owed an explanation: Why has this issue not been addressed? Why does this problem occur to begin with (is it a technical issue; how does the system work)? What is the plan to fix this? Are there costs involved?

(andrew, we don't get many opportunities to communicate fairly directly with the head of WMATA, and it's pretty clear that sending complaints to a generic WMATA email address or website accomplishes nothing. that's why people are using this comments section to mention the issues that concern them the most about this system, which seems to still be headed in the wrong direction.)

by Arnold on Feb 2, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

I think there have been some really great questions of policy and specifics. However I really hope the bloggers don't focus on that.

As CEO, he really shouldn't be spending his time trying to address everyone's pet issues, even though many of them are valuable. Biking to stations, snow clearing, pedestrian safety, and bag searches are all important topics. But they're the here-and-now. A good CEO would probably leave each of those issues up to the relevant department. I strongly believe most people would forgive shortcomings in all those areas if we thought the system was being run well anyway. Perhaps the worst question, along my line of thought, is "How often do you ride Metro?" Riders probably don't give a crap how often he rides the system, they just want it to work. If he can run the system living in Aruba, more power to him. I find it hard to believe he could deliver results without riding the system on a regular basis, but we should focus on RESULTS, not appearances.

The reform packages from the Board of Trade and the RAC both emphasized that Sarles should be the Chief Executive Officer. That means setting aggressive, measurable goals and then holding the CEO responsible for meeting them. I hope the questions focus the goals, yardsticks, timetables, and (where appropriate at this early stage) RESULTS.

If you ask questions like "specifically, how will WMATA address ...." chances are, an honest and acceptable answer will be "I don't know" or perhaps "That's not a priority, perhaps the [CFO, or responsible executive] might be able to give you more detail."

A better question, in my opinion, is to ask "What are WMATA's priorities in the next 1, 3, and 5 years? What is the CEO's plan in each of those areas? What metrics will the Board use to decide success or failure? Finally, will you or the most knowledgeable executive detail the situation and proposed solutions?"

Perhaps WMATA should consider hosting quarterly or semi-annual conference calls presenting operational and financial information like public companies do.

by WRD on Feb 2, 2011 3:51 pm • linkreport

Just looking at these questions, ask something about buses. Even with over 1/3 of the WMATA rides being on bus, the only comment about a bus is asking whether he rode one.

For specific bus questions:
How are they making plans to alter bus routes or frequencies as BRAC progresses?
How does WMATA evaluate when a line is overcapacity and needs more busses or route changes?
How do they keep track of buses that disappear from the NextBus system and what are they doing to decrease the frequency this occurs?

by Dan on Feb 2, 2011 3:59 pm • linkreport

@David C: Have you taken a look at what metro's office of planning is working on over at This is of course subject to funding, and we don't have enough funding identified to do even the things that keep the system in a state of good repair and keeping up with customer demand on existing lines.

Bikes on reverse commute: Bart is much more one-directional than us (almost every line goes in-out of downtown SF). Our policy would have to be quite a bit more complicated and hard to enforce (right now the station managers can just tell you no bikes at this time, under the new policy they wouldn't be able to enforce at all).

@John M: on fare hikes, that's really up to the funding jurisdictions and the Board. On WTOP he said that he proposed no fare hike this year.

@andrew: the proposal to express during single tracking only makes sense when trains are backing up, like during a rush hour emergent situation. Three trains are sent through together, the first gets a long express, the second a short one, and the third serves local stops. Since the maintenance is scheduled when trains are more widely spaced (15 minutes), it's not a good idea to wait for three trains to be bunched together to send them through together.

If Maryland, Virginia or DC decide not to provide their full share of funding, the Board must approve an operating plan that fits within the allotted funding. The Compact requires a balanced budget, and allows WMATA to assess the jurisdictions for their portion. There is a complex funding formula for determining each jurisdiction's contribution, and the jurisdiction with less funding would be responsible for either the contribution or service cuts that balance. Operationally, there are only a few points in the system where service can be turned around and they don't necessarily coincide with "the border".

Matt Johnson already covered why we can't run yellow line further during rush hour (no time to turn trains around anywhere else, no money to run them all the way to Greenbelt).

@RedlineSOS: Holiday closures are necessary for maintenance.

@BeyondDC: He ordered the escalator/elevator reliability study, which resulted in a good look at maintenance practices.

@Jessica: Replacing short escalators with stairs was presented to the board a couple of years ago, the reaction was a collective yawn.

@Randall M: He rides almost daily from his apartment in Pentagon City to downtown. Metro studied increasing bicycle and pedestrian access and has been holding public meetings. Take a look here: and

Overall, the question I would ask is: "What are your performance metrics? How will the public and/or the Board know if you're doing a good job?"

by Michael Perkins on Feb 2, 2011 6:35 pm • linkreport

@WRD I agree with most of your post. But I take issue with your comment that riders don't give a crap whether the CEO rides the system as long as it works. Most managers start a new job by telling all their workers "My door is always open, you can always tell me whats on your mind", blah blah blah. But reality is that people tend to tell the boss only what they think he wants to hear. A system as large as Metro will always have some problems, but if the CEO never encounters them and nobody ever informs him of any problems, he can always plausibly deny that he knew of the extent of the problems.

But if hes a regular rider (and as I understand it Sarles rides Metro on a daily basis) then he can go to his office and question someone about Why are the trains on the Blue line late? Why are the escalators not working at this station? The people under him won't be able to answer by denying the problems exist, or by giving some vague generality that its all being taken care of and will be fixed by sometime "next month". He will be able to see things for himself and has a stake in seeing that any "fixes" are accomplished properly and expeditiously.

So while I don't think its necessary for the CEO to know how to replace a set of struts on a model S3296B bus, I really do think its important for he/she to be a regular user of the system.

by rextrex on Feb 2, 2011 6:52 pm • linkreport

Could we please have recycling bins for paper-glass-plastic outside of all of Metro stations? And, will top leadership stay committed to WMATA's adopted Environmental Management System? (Thanks!)

by GingerB on Feb 3, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport


Good point, you are right. I was a bit too aggressive in making my case yesterday.

by WRD on Feb 3, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

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