Metro’s Loss Could Be DC’s Gain?

Given Metro’s intransigent desire to hire someone other than Dan Tangherlini to run the city’s rail system, it comes as no surprise that other civic organizations might want to snatch up the brilliant interim manager of the Metro. However, I was surprised to hear that he might be in contention for the soon-to-be vacant City Administrator job, says the Post:

Fenty has identified a potential candidate to replace Bobb: Dan Tangherlini, interim Metro chief and former head of the District’s Transportation Department.

Tangherlini is seeking appointment as the permanent Metro leader; a decision is planned in October. But if he does not win that job, Fenty said, “we would be very interested in him.”

This brings up an important question: Who needs an amazingly effective and clearly public-minded front-facing official more? Metro or the city itself? In my opinion, Metro may need a new strong head, and Tangherlini’s done an incredible and laudable job at the helm there, but I think the City could use a fresh face, too, and Tangherlini’s credentials here are impeccable. What say you?

8 Comments so far

  1. smouie kablooie (unregistered) on September 14th, 2006 @ 10:24 am

    My personal belief is that the level of dysfuntion and mismanagement that Metro operates under today can not be resolved by replacing a few people here and there. Management can effect changes – but the entire system performs poorly from a people, process, technology, and financial perspective.

    I don’t know if it is possible given the type of organization Metro seems to be (this amalgamation of public and private) – but I say put it through a process similar to that described under OMB Circular A-76 – public-private competition.

    If the existing organization was forced to compete with private sector companies to see who should provide this service for the next 5-10 years – the forces of competition are bound to bring about improvements in the entire system.

    Plus, if you structure a competition like this – you can have bidders compete not just on price – but also on the level of service they will provide. You then hold them accountable to those levels of service – and if they fail to meet them – you run another competition and get someone new in.

    There’s a lot that goes into making these types of competitions work – both in the planning, execution, and post-award accountability. But I don’t think metro has ever been a well run organization in the over 25 years I’ve lived here. It’s time for the forces of open marketplace competition to come to bear on this mess.

  2. smouie kablooie (unregistered) on September 14th, 2006 @ 10:25 am

    Sorry – that was a bit off the subject but Tom hit my button when he brought up Metro’s management.

  3. Mike (unregistered) on September 14th, 2006 @ 4:13 pm

    How on earth could the private sector participate in mass transit a la Metro? It’s not like they can dig tunnels or anything.

  4. Stop_smell_the_Potomac (unregistered) on September 14th, 2006 @ 4:47 pm

    Smouie, are you talking about privatizing the metro system, similar to having toll roads like the Greenway? Or are you saying let’s get companies like Reston Limosine from the private sector to compete to provide transportation services to the residents of DC metropolitan?

    How can one make our public transportation more efficient and reliable, like they do in Switzerland? Public transit is a necessity and is part of the infrastructure of a city like DC. If a private company comes along to provide this service, wouldn’t they be focused on their bottom line, as it is their innate reason for existing?

    Ridership has increased and yes, the metro system is in need of upgrades in equipment and vehicles and trains – there’s definitely room for improvement. The metro area itself is dynamic and challenging to keep up so I think WMATA is doing its best under these conditions. It’s not perfect but it works.

    It does help to have someone come in with vision and to understand how important this system is to the economic viability of DC on all levels and determine how to best make what s/he got work better. The world wasn’t built in a day.

  5. Don (unregistered) on September 14th, 2006 @ 4:55 pm

    You then hold them accountable to those levels of service – and if they fail to meet them – you run another competition and get someone new in.

    I’m sorry – have you been living in a different location than I have? Do you really see that happening?

  6. smouie kablooie (unregistered) on September 14th, 2006 @ 9:07 pm

    This is what happens when I go on coffee-induced tirades. To respond/clarify…

    1) My primary issue with the existing WMATA is its lack of performance accountability – both in terms of it’s services and its finances

    2) I agree that public transportation is important. I do not agree that “public transportation” has to be managed by public-sector entities. For example, the circular I mentioned above provides guidance for public-private competitions. It notes:

    “The longstanding policy of the federal government has been to rely on the private sector for needed commercial services. To ensure that the American people receive maximum value for their tax dollars, commercial activities should be subject to the forces of competition.”

    I would like to see the same type of competition applied to the services provided by Metro. Whether or not a private sector company “can dig tunnels” is not as important as whether or not a private sector company can provide the core transportation services WMATA is responsible for.

    3) Yes, if a private company was providing the service, it would want to make a profit. To me there is an implied, negative argument that is being made when people observe this – namely that a private company making a profit comes at the expense of performance OR quality OR service OR gets passed on to the consumer OR all of these.

    That said, you could still have a public-sector body running WMATA – but a private sector company actually running the trains/busses – and held accountable to their performance. Under a fixed price contract – the company would be guaranteed a certain profit margin – and it would allow WMATA to budget a large portion of what it does as a fixed cost. This would help WMATA plan more appropriately for when it needs to raise fees to cover costs – and maybe mean that it wouldn’t have to be THE ONLY American public transportation system of its kind that is subsidized by state AND federal funds.

    4) In some ways a reiteration of my first clarification – performance accountability is a key factor to the success of WMATA – whether it is run by a public or private organization. Assuming that it the core transportation services were provided by a private company – then yes, if it didn’t meet performance expectations, the government could respond with a range of consequences – ranging from requirements for the company to take corrective action to a termination of the contract for matters of convenience.

    That said, a private company has an incentive to NOT FAIL. If they have a contract, and they are making a profit from that contract, they don’t want to lose it. They also want to continue providing the service in the future – so the better they perform, the better it is for them – and the customer.

    *whew* In my opinion nothing with WMATA will ever change unless they are held accountable for their performance and financial management. We have to ride it because it’s the only game in town, so much like Comcast can screw me on the quality of my cable television (because they are the only cable provider I can get), metro doesn’t really have to do a great job – they can get away with mediocre. If the core transportation services they provided were subjected to the forces of market competition, perhaps we could have a better service.

  7. smouie kablooie (unregistered) on September 15th, 2006 @ 12:48 am

    Not to belabor the point, but found this interesting bit of information on Wikipedia:

    “Nellis and Kikeri[1] have shown that in competitive industries with well-informed consumers, privatization consistently improves efficiency. Such efficiency gains mean a one-off increase in GDP, but through improved incentives to innovate and reduce costs also tend to raise the rate of economic growth. The type of industries to which this generally applies include manufacturing and retailing. Although typically there are social costs associated with these efficiency gains[2], many economists argue that these can be dealt with by appropriate government support through redistribution and perhaps retraining.
    In sectors that are natural monopolies or public services, a successful privatization is much more of a challange. However, if the performance of an existing public sector operation is notably poor, even a badly designed privatization (or threat thereof) has visibly improved matters. Indeed, Megginson & Netter[3] showed that the greatest gains from privatization are achieved in the pre-privatization period as reforms are made to prepare for the transfer to private hands. Changes may include, inter alia, the imposition of related reforms such as greater transparency and accountability of management, improved internal controls, regulatory systems, and better financing, rather than privatization itself.”

    Full entry on privatization here – worth a read as it provides some good insights into both sides of the argument.

  8. Don (unregistered) on September 15th, 2006 @ 12:58 pm

    I don’t disagree with much of anything you said. I simply hold out no hope that the local government will exercise that chance to hold anyone accountable.

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