“Well, that’s a priority now, and even though the cars still don’t look the way I want them to look, they are clean on the outside. At least we wash them now. That we control from a quality standpoint.”
Catoe says one of the things he hears most from riders is about ‘employee bunching.’ We’ve all seen it (and probably complained about it at one time or another), a group of employees standing together talking with each other rather than helping people.
“So I have personally gone out and talked to groups. I know you’re talking to each other, I’m sure you’re working, but from a public perspective, I am telling them from our customers how they see them when they are in groups. And that’s something we control.”
Catoe believes that WMATA riders are very courteous. They let people exit the trains before people go in and are very good about doing that.
He said that daily riders are also very conscientious of seniors and people carrying luggage — which, as you would imagine, is quite prevalent on the system.
“I have always seen people getting out of the way or getting up and that’s just the culture of our ridership. And you see a slight difference in the summer because we’ve got a lot of visitors,” Catoe says.
“Now there are some other issues we have, too, about closing doors or whatever. But I think it’s a 90 percent us, but 10 percent our customers, too. I mean we have the ultimate responsibility to make this system safe, reliable and clean. Our customers have the responsibility to keep it clean and safe in the standpoint of letting us know what is going on, but also from a courtesy standpoint.”
I have spoken with agencies that get along with the local media and those that do not. None of them have the added weight of Congress sitting in their backyard like WMATA does.
“You have Congress looking over your shoulder at all times,” Catoe says.
“Something happens here like we had an overtime issue. In every transit system based upon seniority there are operators and mechanics who are going to make $100,000 a year. That happens all over the country. There are stories all over the country about it.
“When it happens here, Congress says it wants a Congressional hearing on overtime at Metro. And it proposed in a certain funding bill [to] restrict the amount of overtime we could pay. Now we pushed and said you can’t do that from a labor standpoint and a contract standpoint, but here the focus is on Capitol Hill, and with that we have an extra responsibility.
“And that’s what I mean that we not only serve this region, we serve the country because what Congress sees is their perception of public transportation all over the country.”
Catoe makes the point that for many elected officials they serve areas that do not have large transit systems. So their sole experience with public transit is the agency in Washington, D.C., and Catoe says they have to demonstrate transit dollars are spent wisely, the system is operated properly and people are using the system so Congress will support it throughout the country.
“I think that’s the secondary responsibility we have,” Catoe says, “We can’t just look at it from the standpoint of the Washington area, but we have to. look at it from the standpoint of the national standpoint.”
As for the media, Catoe says they are right there should anything go wrong with the system to let riders know. “[If] anything happens, any moment, one train breaks down and it is all over the news and how terrible we are as an operation.
“As I tell people we operate more than 1,500 trips a day on trains and if you have the average of 14 breakdowns, breaks or some issues when you have to work on the system, that’s less than 1 percent. That means 99 percent it’s working well.”
According to Catoe, because the train lines are like a one lane highway, when a train breaks down, it blocks everything else behind it — and that’s a problem.
“I wish we had a system like NY with multiple tracks because if you have a problem you can just go around,” Catoe says, “Here if you have a problem you have to single track on the other side. And that creates real problems for us.”