And with a 35-year-old system, he says they’ve set about rebuilding the Metro program. The Red Line is one of the oldest and the most heavily used, so they are concentrating on that first. He says, “This is the nuts-and-bolts work, it’s tracks, it’s switches, it’s lighting, traction power, all those kinds of things.
“We’re working on rebuilding Washington Metro. “ Sarles says, “With a capital funding agreement we ended up with a $5B six-year agreement with the funding authorities here. We now have it pretty well laid out, the amount of money we’re getting every year with the plan and moving accordingly.
“I was smiling and happy with that,” he says. “I got the agreement last summer but the more recent possible turn of events, or at least discussions in Congress, are causing me significant concern with WMATA.”
Advocating for Authorization
With the discussions devoted to safety and state of good repair and then discussions of rolling back to funding of earlier years, that could significantly impact the capital program.
“On top of that, what could also affect us and affect most every other public transportation agency in the country, is rolling back to an earlier year of appropriation levels, that would mean we would get less federal formula funds we use for capital we anticipated.”
With one of the primary concerns when coming on to Metro was financial stability, advocacy is very important. “We’re obviously well positioned here in Washington to be a strong voice in that advocacy because people see us every day here,” says Sarles.
“It’s important we convey the economic benefits, not only economic benefits but the benefits to customers who need us to get to health care facilities, to schools and everything else. It’s just not about jobs; it’s about living every day life.” He stresses, “In an urban area you need public transportation.
“My view is that we were promised in terms of past authorization bills, a certain level of funding and with an expectation that would continue at a certain level and we have to advocate for maintaining that level.”
Quality Customer Service
Providing quality service is another area the agency is focusing on. Sarles explains how that extends in a number of areas, one of them being the interior design of the new cars they’ve ordered.
“We are using a lot of custom research,” he says. “There’s been some done before but more as we come up with the fine details of the interior design. That will guide us — formalized custom research.”
He says he’s used this process before both when he was at New Jersey Transit and at Amtrak. And, both times received great public reception. Though the interior of a subway car is different, he says they want to use the same process.
Another way of improving customer service is the reintroduction of the secret shopper program to get additional input on the service performance. He also says getting out personally to do meets and greets with customers in stations provides a better sense of the balance of customers’ views. “You’re not just listening to complainers, but people will walk up to me telling me they really enjoy the service; it’s good to get the positives and negatives.”
The Switch to Long-Term Focus
All of these things were started in the short-term when Sarles came on, but he said that now, as he switches to longer-term thinking, he’s turning his attention to several other areas. One of those areas is the bus service.
Metro has been successful over the years in replacing its bus fleet so it has a fairly young age for the fleet. But, like every other city, they get caught up in congestion and they’re looking at planning and looking at how to give priority treatment to buses, whether in regards to traffic signal priority or exclusive curbside lanes. Sarles says, “We’re going to be much more aggressive in working in a district DOT to try to obtain those preferential treatments and that will take place over the next year or two.
And then beyond that is also system capacity. As he explains, they can only go to eight-car lengths and it’s only a two-track system and if they look out 15 to 20 years from now, the system is going to get to the point where every day is like Inaugural day.