Metro hires new general manager amid pandemic, safety challenges

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Metro on Tuesday tapped Randy Clarke, the chief executive of a Texas transit agency with more than two decades of experience heading up transportation projects, to lead the public transportation system through pandemic-related ridership and financial challenges while it also works its way through a federal safety investigation that has led to an ongoing train shortage.

Clarke, will replace Paul J. Wiedefeld, who announced in January that he would retire on June 30 after six years of leading the nation’s third-largest transit agency.

Clarke is president of CapMetro, the public transit agency in Austin, and previously served in roles at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston. Metro board chairman Paul Smedberg said during a morning news conference that Clarke is “known for his innovative approaches.”

He will begin his role at Metro during the late summer, the transit agency said.

“You’ll see me out on the system a lot,” Clarke said. “I want to learn and listen from you.”

Clarke has served as president and chief executive of CapMetro since March 2018. Metro officials touted his role in leading an initiative called Project Connect, a financial voter-approved referendum for transit expansion. The initiative brought a multi-billion-dollar infusion to CapMetro’s capital program, Metro said.

The Austin role came after Clarke served for two years as vice president of operations and member services at the Washington-based American Public Transportation Association, leading safety audits and industry peer reviews throughout the country.

Before that, he spent six years at Boston’s MBTA in roles that included deputy chief operating officer and chief safety officer, responsible for the organization’s safety oversight. He was also director of security and emergency management at MBTA.

“Safety, to me, is a cultural element and a value,” Clarke said Tuesday.

Wiedefeld, 66, had guided Metro toward greater reliability and ridership growth before the coronavirus pandemic upended operations of transit agencies across the country. With those challenges looming, Wiedefeld said earlier this year it was time for Metro to find a new top executive to lead the agency through years of transformation.

Metro’s general manager to retire after six years as top executive

Metro is in its seventh month of a train shortage after the removal of nearly 750 of its 7000-series trains from service. The loss of nearly 60 percent of the agency’s fleet has frustrated riders with lengthy waits for trains.

The 7000 series was suspended last October after a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into a Blue Line derailment outside the Arlington Cemetery station uncovered a defect affecting nearly 50 rail cars over four years. The defect causes the cars wheels to widen away from each other. Federal investigators continue to investigate the cause of the defect.

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, a regulatory agency that monitors Metrorail safety, ordered the 7000 series out of service until Metro can provide the commission with a plan on how it can safely operate the trains. Metro has said it plans to gradually return the trains through the summer.

Clarke could also face pandemic-induced financial challenges amid a shift to increased telework.

The transit agency expects to face a nearly $ 500 million shortfall in operating funds starting in summer 2023, when more than $ 2 billion in federal coronavirus relief that made up for lost fare revenue will start to run out.

Metro says ridership is outpacing transit agency projections

During the last week of April, Metrorail averaged 223,000 daily trips on weekdays, or 35 percent of trips before the pandemic. The recovery has been stronger on Metrobus, which averaged 293,250 daily trips, or 87 percent of trips taken before the pandemic.

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