Metro is getting a new leader.
Randy Clarke, of the Austin, Texas, public transit system, has been named general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, tasked with leading the D.C. system as it faces major challenges.
Clarke is currently the president and CEO of Capital Metro (CapMetro) in Austin, Texas, and will begin his new position in D.C. in late summer.
The Metro Board of Directors announced the hire at a news conference Tuesday.
The hire comes as Metro seeks to lure riders back to the system following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic and to restore public confidence in the system, which has run limited service since a derailment last fall.
The ongoing investigation into the derailment uncovered a wheel issue Metro apparently knew about since 2017. As a result, all of Metro’s new 7000 Series rails cars, accounting for 60% of Metro’s entire rail fleet, have been pulled from service.
Metro’s current chief, Paul Wiedefeld, is retiring next month, after more than six years at the helm of the regional transit agency.
‘Tough challenges ahead’
The announcement of Clark’s appointment comes following a national search that began in January.
Speaking at Tuesday’s news conference, Metro Board Chair Paul Smedberg pointed to Clarke’s “depth of experience” and said board members settled on Clarke as “the one individual that we felt would bring most about the transformation needed here at WMATA.”
Clarke joined Austin’s CapMetro in March 2018 and is credited with leading an effort to secure a major voter referendum there to fund a multibillion expansion of their system called Project Connect.
Clarke has also worked as a vice president at the American Public Transportation Association, leading safety audits and peer reviews at other transit systems across the country.
He also worked for six years at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, including as deputy chief operating officer and chief safety officer.
In remarks after his appointment was announced, Clarke said, “I give the community my commitment to ensuring that Metro delivers the world-class, safe, reliable, customer-centric services that this region definitely deserves.”
He acknowledged “tough challenges ahead,” including shifting commuting patterns that have led to a long-term drop in riders.
“We’re going to have to have a serious conversation regionally about commuting patterns” and how that factors into service levels, Clarke said. “I think these are good conversations to have with the community, and together, we can build consensus and figure out the future.”
Metro’s independent safety watchdog, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, created in the wake of the deadly 2015 L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident, continues to outline inadequate safety procedures across the system.
Clarke said he “doubled down on safety” while leading CapMetro in Austin and said that while he believes Metro is already a very safe system, there is always room for improvement.
“We should never stop improving … There will never be a period that, as long as I’m in the seat, that we don’t strive to be better in both service delivery and safety,” he said.
Clarke told reporters that he and his wife are regular daily transit riders and that they would both commute on Metro regularly. “You’ll see me out on the system a lot,” he told reporters.
He added, “I’m going to be on the service every day. My wife will take the service every day. I guarantee you there is no one in this community who wants safe, reliable frequent service more than the future CEO of this organization.”
Smedberg, the Metro Board chair, also thanked Wiedefeld for his leadership of the agency since being appointed in November 2015.
“We were able to have a front-row seat, literally, as he guided this agency through some of its most challenging moments, including rail safety and reliability concerns and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smedberg said.
Wiedefeld’s last day is expected to be June 30.