Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wizard of Sarles

Metro boss Richard Sarles' notion that Metro puts riders first is pretty funny.

Just look at the fare machines for proof that riders rank pretty low in Metro's eyes. Then, once you've done the calculus and handed Metro a ton of money, you only need ride Metro a few times to see it's really not at all about the riders.

Worse yet, if you judge the aloof GM by his actions, he doesn't even seem to care what the people who pay his $350,000 salary think.

He doesn't make himself, or any senior staff, available in the stations during rush hour to answer public questions or just listen to riders' concerns. Other transit managers do this regularly. Sarles could learn a lot through a little personal outreach, but I guess he thinks he knows it all.

Moreover, he doesn't hold public, online chats as former GM Catoe and other Metro GMs used to. He did once hold a Google hangout with the supine Washington Post where one hard hitting question was why some platforms are in the middle.

Sarles even killed off the blogger roundtables Metro hosted, holding just one over two years ago while he was interim GM.

He rarely even gives interviews and seems to only makes public appearances at carefully scripted escalator parties or when Metro wheels him out before the know-nothing board to give the regular spiel they all lap up without question.

Instead, Sarles has chosen to communicate with riders almost exclusively via increasingly out of touch op/eds, press releases, surrogates and ghost written advertorials in the Express newspapers that line the Metro floors.

In those missives, he touts how well Metro is doing when in fact, Metro can't meet the standards Sarles himself lowered!

Oh, and it's not just riders Sarles shuns. Metro employees say he's nowhere to be seen. They remember Catoe and other GMs at least showing up regularly to rub elbows with the front line workers, but Sarles, they say, communicates largely via an electronic newsletter and memos.

"I never really had high hopes for Sarles because this is Metro," said one employee. "But he doesn't even make a gesture to try to make us think he really knows or cares what's going on out here. The guy is totally out of touch and dependent on his downtown yes men. If you ask me, he's got the easiest job in town. No one looks over his shoulder."

Sometimes I picture Sarles as the Wizard of Oz locked away in some small, highly oxygenated room in Metro headquarters relying solely on self serving Metro staff for information from the outside world while, at the same time, being totally dependent on a massive PR machine to form his public image.

The Post once wrote that Sarles is shy. If true, he needs to get over it.

He's the head of a huge, multimillion dollar taxpayer-funded agency that a lot of people in the area depend on. He should be accountable to us.

For the entirety of the Sarles regime, Metro has been in crisis and is seen by many, including me, to be failing on a number of levels.

Sarles' much vaunted MetroForward campaign still has years to go. Frustration with weekend closures, long headways and track work is growing.

Furthermore, all the past work and inconvenience doesn't seem to be making anything better.

It's going to take more than a press release to get the public on Sarles and Metro's side.

For starters, Metro's GM needs to show--not tell--riders firsthand that he's in this with us. We want to like Sarles and Metro, but they've got to show they don't see us only as clueless revenue sources.

Speaking of, Metro is now running at a $28 million surplus shortly after they raised our fares.


Other items:
Metro projects $27 million budget gap next year (WMATA)
Nats-Metro standoff continues (DCist)

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