Remarks by Richard R. Sarles upon his appointment as Metro's General Manager/Chief Executive Officer
Moving Metro Forward
|General Manager/CEO Richard R. Sarles|
Below is the text of remarks given by Metro General Manager/Chief Executive Officer Richard R. Sarles during the Metro Board of Directors meeting on Jan. 27, 2011 upon being appointed as the next General Manager/Chief Executive Officer.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Board, it is a privilege to be selected to lead America’s transit system. I’m especially honored to have the Board’s vote of confidence and I consider it a point of personal pride to represent the 10,000 men and women of Metro, with whom I share a commitment to public transit and public service.
I came to Metro as the interim general manager simply wanting to help put the agency on the right path. We have made progress over the last 10 months and I stress the word we because it has taken a lot of hard work and commitment from many people to get us launched in the right direction.
From the partnerships with the Board and executive leadership team to the frontline staff operating our trains, driving buses and serving customers each day, it has taken a team effort to lay the groundwork for improving safety, reliability and financial stability.
Besides the members of the Metro family, we have been fortunate to have the support of the region’s elected officials, including our Congressional delegation, members of the business community, and oversight groups such as the NTSB and our very own customers, who have shown great patience and understanding as we’ve taken the needed steps to improve.
Over the last 10 months, I have seen what we can do by working together, but even more so, I see what is possible in the future, which is why I am here today.
We are putting building blocks in place – making safety investments, improving our tracks and rail system, putting new buses in service, expanding staff training and designing new rail cars – while it may not be immediately evident and there are inconveniences along the way – we are literally building a new Metro for our customers and employees.
With a 40-year transportation career and as a transit rider for more than 60 years starting when I was just a boy, I could not pass up the opportunity to stay.
Just as transportation has been a constant in my life; I have also been guided by the Athenian Oath, which I have always tried to live up to. While it comes from ancient Greece, it has never gone out of fashion. It’s a simply commitment to leaving a place better than you found it—which is my pledge to Metro.
When I look back on the progress we have made – the move towards new 7K cars, the capital management program, the escalator rehab and replacement program, creation of the Vital Signs report, the massive state of good repair efforts now taking place on the system – I am struck not only by the effective leadership of the team in this room, but more importantly by the men and women who are working so hard around the system.
Even so, we still have a big job ahead. And I want to talk today about how we will move Metro forward – with a continued commitment to safety, reliability and financial stability while adopting the fourth cornerstone of improving customer service.
First, we will continue our unwavering focus on establishing a safety-first culture, including completion of outstanding NTSB recommendations, continuing all RWP and frontline supervisor training, and addressing corrective actions from TOC. Importantly, I and the ELT will be actively expanding our engagement with local safety committees and other field initiatives, advancing a close call reporting program with our labor partners, and moving forward on the next level of safety programs arising out of the safety survey and other recommendations.
With respect to system service and reliability, we will implement the recommendations that arose from the external assessment of our escalators and elevators. We have strengthened the leadership of that department and are undertaking further training, improving quality control and getting back to basics around meeting our maintenance standards, as well as major rehabilitation projects in heavy-volume stations. I have directed a followed up assessment this spring to measure progress.
Operating more efficiently will continue to be a focus for us throughout the agency, particularly as it related to the operating budget. Management’s proposed FY12 budget focuses on continuing the progress of the past year and funding current service levels so that Metro remains an economic engine helping to drive the region’s economic recovery.
However, I want to point out that our ability to operate our core services, as well as continue safety and reliability improvements through rebuilding our infrastructure and equipment depend upon adequate funding.
As Mr. Benjamin noted in Committee this month, there are a number of unpalatable choices before you to fund the operating budget. And as Ms. Hudgins said, in a time of scarce resources and great needs, it is vital that Metro efficiently and effectively expend the investments that we have been given by the jurisdictions to ensure capital improvements are made effectively. We are putting the right management and tools in place to aggressively implement our capital program—the largest and most aggressive since the system was built. But let me be absolutely clear that this is only the base level of investment required to ensure safety and reliability of this now aging system.
As Congress and the jurisdictions consider difficult budget decisions, it will be imperative that Metro have a strong voice advocating on behalf of our riders to maintain the $150 million dollar federal contribution in PRIIA funding and maintain if not increase federal formula funding And, in the longer term, to find ways to address the over $5 billion dollars in capital needs around the system. That funding is the lifeblood of our core services, as well as the capital projects that will allow safe and reliable operations for today’s passengers and for the next generation of riders. Congress needs to understand clearly the vital role Metro plays in the region’s economic viability and quality of life.
I also want to briefly address how we intend to improve service for our customers. To ensure that we are handling customer questions and comments in a way that gives meaningful input to our operations while meeting our customers’ needs, we are launching an independent assessment of our call center. We are also going to establish the transit version of a “secret shopper” program to improve our accountability and customer service onboard and in stations. And we will take some simple steps to unravel idiosyncrasies in the system that benefit our customers such as creating the virtual tunnel connection between the Farragut North and West stations to make transfers easier for riders.
As you know, we are seeking a business partner to help us design the next generation of smart fare-payment technology to expand customer choices and make riding the system more convenient with debit, credit and federal ID cards, as well as other chip-enabled payment methods. Importantly, we are also preparing for the opening of the Dulles extension.
Bus service will benefit from new technology that integrates fare box, destination signage and next bus systems to improve our reliability and customer information delivery. And, we will begin work in certain priority bus corridors that will deliver faster travel times for bus customers. Additionally, I look forward to working with the District of Columbia on potential bus rapid transit service improvements, such as curb running and signal preference to make bus service even more attractive, efficient, and an even more powerful antidote to traffic congestion.
While we will continue to celebrate milestones in our path to progress, it is equally important to identify areas that are not meeting our standards, where we will intensify management focus and identify new business solutions. For example, we need to improve logistics to ensure budget efficient and timely availability of parts. Importantly, the historic workforce deficit that has created a critical shortage of bus and train operators; as well as a dependence on overtime, will be addressed to ensure the continuation of core services. Equally important is attracting the best and the brightest experienced and credentialed professionals in our industry to fill key management vacancies, so that our leadership team is strong and communicates better internally and with our customers. And, while extraordinary growth in demand for paratransit service is not unique to MetroAccess, in the current economic climate it is essential that we consider new ways of managing our costs while providing this vital service.
Moving Metro forward will require all of us working together every day to rebuild this system and ensure it delivers the safe and reliable service that our customers expect and our region requires to remain economically strong.
I look forward to talking with our customers and employees about that hard work. But I will tell you, that I was out just a couple of Saturday’s ago watching the major track work at Foggy Bottom and was proud of the work our employees are doing – it’s the nuts and bolts of rebuilding the system.
Seeing the level of effort out there reminded me of Teddy Roosevelt’s admonition that it is far better to dare mighty things, than to sit idly by and risk nothing, gaining nothing.
The entire Metro family of employees is daring mighty things, and I want to take this opportunity today to thank them again.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman that concludes my remarks.
News release issued at 3:22 pm, January 27, 2011.