Back in January when I got word from a reliable source that Phil Washington of the Denver Regional Transportation District was a serious contender for the top job at LA Metro, I confirmed my intel and immediately went to press. I will probably never know whether anyone at Metro or the Mayor's office read my enthusiastic piece, but I like to think so. It feels good when you put something in writing and it comes to pass.
By all accounts, Phil Washington will be coming to Los Angeles with an impressive track record as a manager and builder to help continue to grow and refine our expanding transit system.
As Metro is one of the County's most important public agencies, it is critical that the new CEO be someone proven and of the highest quality and character. The agency needs genuine leadership from Mr. Washington so let's hope that he is a thick-skinned leader who will be focused on the prize -- improving and expanding service and attracting more riders to ditch their cars for Metro.
There are some excellent, hardworking people at Metro and knowing that the driver at the wheel is someone who understands the public's reliance on Metro's buses and trains should motivate Metro's employees to work even harder to deliver a quality product. As for the Metro Board, it remains a mix of smart pro-transit civil servants and a handful who can seem almost hostile to expansion of the critical transit system. Given the importance of a quality bus and rail network to the region, I hope Mr. Washington will follow the credo of Thomas Edison who famously said, "There are no rules here; we're trying to accomplish something."
The challenges that Mr. Washington will face in his new role are considerable but the up side is the opportunity to give world class LA a transit system to match.
A lifelong transit rider and transplant to LA, I still marvel at the lack of appreciation of the system in some quarters and at the expensive mistakes (e.g., the need for the pricey Regional Connector) that have cost us decades in terms of construction, quality and connectivity. In many parts of the County, Metro buses and trains remain a last resort option rather than a fairly low cost means of getting from point A to point B. This has to change and is changing slowly. The system seems to be seeing more discretionary riders and the redevelopment of downtown LA, Koreatown, North East LA, Pasadena and Culver City are helping. Those changes will only accelerate as the Expo and Gold Line extensions come on line soon followed by completion of the Crenshaw Line.
The existing big ticket projects plus a rail line through the Sepulveda Pass and rail or a bus rapid transit line on the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor will be on Mr. Washington's plate as should transit to Silicon Beach at Playa Vista so we don't end up with another transit-free Century City West.
I hope that Mr. Washington can also get the agency to focus on the little things. The fact that some buses and many bus stops remain filthy doesn't help the system attract discretionary riders. Some lines like the critical 720 Rapid also turn off first time or irregular riders as the buses seem to serve as rolling homes for disruptive (homeless?) riders taking up more than one seat. Menacing riders have no place on the bus and train.
Real time transit apps are an outstanding development for those who can afford a smart phone and, equally importantly, know that the apps exist. More outreach is needed to make the public aware of this time saving technology.
At least the agency has finally locked the subway turnstiles (Collecting fares to pay for service is a good idea, don'tcha think?) and is encouraging the sheriff's department to do enforcement rather than stand around in groups and yammer. That's a contract that needs a serious look over.
Now that we know who the next CEO will it be, it is time for those who don't ride Metro to take a pre- and post-Phil Washington ride on the trains and buses. My bet is that even that first ride will turn more of us into TAP card carrying transit riders. And who knows, maybe that guy riding next to you will be Metro's new CEO Phil Washington.
Yours in transit,