During a House Subcommittee on Government Operations hearing today, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) recognized the progress made by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to improve the Metro system’s safety and reliability for National Capital Region commuters, including thousands of Marylanders and federal employees.
Congressman Sarbanes also encouraged WMATA General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld to maintain his organization’s commitment to increased transparency and accountability.
“I think that just like the way a dog can smell fear, a commuter can smell when they feel like they’re not being leveled with, in terms of safety issues, in terms of how long something’s going to take to get done,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “Just the mere fact of trying to be transparent, calling it like it is, saying to people ‘well, if we’re going to do X, it means we’re going to have to suffer Y for a certain period of time. But X appears to be something you value, so we’re going to go do that, and it’s going to hurt.’ Just that, in and of itself, has helped to improve the image of WMATA.”
Congressman Sarbanes added: “That idea of being candid, being transparent, being as honest as you possibly can every single day with the challenges that are faced – we’ve found it refreshing, in terms of the way you come and present, but I imagine that your riders are finding it refreshing as well. It’s a tough standard to stick with every single day, so you add a burden to your job description when you invite that, but I think it makes a huge difference.”
General Manager Wiedefeld agreed, stressing that in addition to improving its communication and transparency with riders, WMATA would continue focusing on prioritizing safety.
“One of the biggest things that we did as an agency, working from the ground up, was that we put safety above service, and we believed it. So, what you’ve seen play out is that we make decisions based on that first,” said Wiedefeld.
“We had to focus on rebuilding [credibility] by doing what we said we were going to do. It’s painful. [Maintenance that requires limited operating hours] is one example, and the platform work, where we had to shut down the platforms,” Wiedefeld added. “But what does the customer want? They want [the Metro] safe and they want it reliable. And that is what we continue to focus on.”
Congressman Sarbanes is an original cosponsor of the Metro Accountability and Investment Act (H.R. 2520), which would make vital reforms to WMATA – including provisions to ensure that the Metro system makes transparency and safety its highest priorities.