UPDATED: Nov. 19, 2015 4:32 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Metro’s Board of Directors unanimously approved Paul Wiedefeld as the agency’s new general manager and CEO Thursday.
After more than 10 months, Metro finally has a full-time operator at the helm with a mission to guide the agency back to reliability.
Wiedefeld is bringing decades of experience in transportation, having led the Maryland Transit Administration and BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport.
“The similarities are that it is a customer-driven business and a product driven business. There’s a lot of things we can do, and there’s a lot of things that we don’t control. But, yet we’re measured by passengers,” Wiedefeld says. “What we to have focus on is the product that we’re delivering.”
Wiedefeld says his priorities will be safety and security, noting that the top safety officer job at Metro is vacant. He says he understands Metro is mired in a tough stretch marked with smoke incidents, derailments and fiscal mismanagement.
“I can’t undo what’s been done, but I can start to move in a different direction and that’s what I’m going to do. I ask for patience, I know [riders] don’t want to hear that, I understand that,” Wiedefeld says. “We’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”
Wiedefeld says the challenge is a big part of this job that appeals to him, adding his background at MTA gives him a framework of experience to draw from.
“There are a lot of things I’ve learned, and a lot of mistakes I’ve made up there that I learned from, and will be able to apply those here. Every system has its own unique issues, but I think there will be things that I can bring to the table,” Wiedefeld says.
Traditionally, the Metro board votes to increase fares every other year. The upcoming fiscal year is a fare hike year, but several leaders have already vowed against raising fares. Wiedefeld joins that opposition.
“I just don’t think this is the time to be asking people for more money when we’re not performing to the level that we expect,” Wiedefeld says.
Wiedefeld takes the helm as ridership continues to dwindle against reliability issues, a gutted federal subsidy and cheap gas prices. He understands that it’s a tough job, but he’s not ready to concede that it’s an impossible job. He says his mission is to restore Metro to its former glory.
“The way I remember Metro as a young man, and Washington in general: it was the Mall, it was the monuments and it was Metro,” Wiedefeld says. “And Metro was part of the experience, and I think we all sort of remember back and I think that what’s we’re all going to get back to.”
Wiedefeld will assume his position as Metro’s Chief Executive on Nov. 30, and receive an annual salary $397,500 plus standard benefits, Metro says.
The Washington Post reports Wiedefeld is “one of the best-compensated public officials in the Washington area and perhaps the highest-paid mass-transit manager in the country.”
Wiedefeld, who lives in Maryland, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in political science from Towson University and a master’s in city and regional planning from Rutgers University.