New Metro GM listens to riders’ concerns

WASHINGTON — He has been in the job less than a month, but Metro’s new general manager is hitting the ground running by listening to hundreds of frustrated commuters.

“They’re looking for someone to make sure that we’re hearing what their issues are and doing something about it, and that is what I’m here to do,” Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said.

In his opening remarks, Metro’s new leader admitted he might not have the answers to all the questions attendees had, but he wanted to hear them. He told them he plans to use the Metro every day and his first concerns are making the system safer, more reliable and getting the “fiscal house” in order.

Safety problems are something the aging transit system has struggled with as of late. This year included a deadly smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza and the derailment of a train without passengers near the Smithsonian station.  Recently, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx took safety oversight out of the hands of the Tri-State Oversight Committee and placed it solely in the hands of the Federal Transportation Administration.

The meeting on Monday was organized by the D.C. Metro Riders’ Union. Wiedefeld listened to concerns and criticism at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown D.C.

“This is the worst that it has ever been,” said Josh Martin, of Bethesda, who expressed his feelings about the impact of single tracking during the week on his commute to D.C.

When it comes to track work, Wiedefeld said he would like to see the system not only better notify riders of work, but also ask for their input on the best ways to improve the system without effecting the system’s reliability.

Other concerns included the accessibility of trains for handicapped riders, inaccurate wait times in stations, the inability to understand train operators over speakers, the cleanliness of the system and the attitudes of some Metro employees.

“I hope that you’ll work on the personnel a little bit because they should really have an attitude of that they want to help,” said Martin Fleck, of D.C.

Wiedefeld said many Metro employees do a good job, but with any organization you have some “knuckleheads.”

The new GM said he wants all WMATA employees to be proud of where they work, and he said that type of cultural change needs to start with him.

Others raised questions about fares, which included the inability to get your money back if you decide to leave a station because the wait times are too great. The proposed budget for the next fiscal year addresses that concern. It would give passengers refunds if they enter and exit the same station within a few minutes.

At the end, many thanked the general manager for listening to what they had to say.

Wiedefeld called the meeting an important step in improving the agency.

“This is what this job is. If it was a perfect system we wouldn’t have these meetings,” Wiedefeld said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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