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Before Metro Resignation, Zimmerman Expressed Frustration

by ARLnow.com December 20, 2010 at 11:16 am 2,205 37 Comments

When Chris Zimmerman announced he was stepping down from Metro’s Board of Directors last Tuesday, there was near universal agreement — at least among reporters — that it was a surprising and unexpected move. After all, Zimmerman was the body’s longest-serving member and perhaps its most ardent booster.

But lately Zimmerman had been expressing frustration, both publicly and privately, with what he sees as the inability of federal, state and local governments to properly fund Metro. In fact, at last Tuesday’s county board meeting — just two days before he would announce his resignation — Zimmerman spoke about the issue during a discussion of the county’s transit development plan.

Specifically, Zimmerman was addressing a question about adding more eight car trains on the Orange Line — something that Metro had promised but only partially delivered. Here’s what Zimmerman said:

It is true that the fact that Metro is not being funded at the level it needs to be, and that new needs come up — particularly in response to NTSB recommendations — means funds aren’t available and things like [eight car trains] are being put off. That is a problem. That is a huge problem. It’s not just a problem for Arlington, it is really a crisis for the region. If we don’t start funding Metro at the level it needs to be funded, it is not going to matter what else we do.

The comments seem consistent with what Zimmerman told reporters shortly after announcing his resignation.

When you chronically and persistently underfund an agency like this, it’s not going to perform the way you want it to… If we don’t have a stronger commitment from the region and from the federal government, then there’s nothing the general manager and the staff here can do to handle the problems that concern people, or to meet the growth that is forecast that will doubtless make things worse in another five years and certainly ten years.

  • el fat kid

    he’s pretty much exactly right…

    • TGEoA

      One person’s underfunding is anothers waste. Is there any suprise as to why Zimmie’s cries to throw more money down a sinkhole have fallen on deaf ears?

      • Jason S

        It’s always more funding, that’s the only thing that can fix Metro. It has nothing to do with it’s culture, that it’s basically a welfare-to-work program, and that Metro employees regularly lie on their maintenance reports. They would do the work, if only the funding were there, instead they are forced to sleep on the job instead of actually checking the trains.

        When Metro starts hiring responsible adults and takes their job seriously, they can ask for more money. In the meantime, I cannot see any reason to add funding until their cultural problems are resolved. We could give them a billion dollars more per year and it would not matter at all, we would only have more worthless Metro employees doing nothing all day.

        • John Antonelli

          Jason, you hit the nail on the head. We can discuss whether Metro needs more money after Metro shows it can manage what it has. Zimmerman sees more money as the cure to the problem when in fact in this case it will only make the patient sicker. I think the WAPO editorial on Sunday is a more accurate reason as to why Zimmerman resigned. I know his story about being County board Chairman and on the Metro board as being too much work is a bold faced lie as he has done both before.

          Elected officials who lie to their constituents should be called on it. Sadly that doesn’t happen in Arlington as we are happy little mushrooms so we get lied to about the County Manager, the cost of silly law suits, and now this.

        • FedUp

          If you want to hire responsible, educated employees instead of many of the ones Metro has now, you will have to pay better, create better working conditions, etc. It always comes down to funding, no matter how you look at it.

          • Jason S

            LOL, sure. If only we paid Metro employees a million dollars a year they would do great things. No, I think the better solution is to fire them.

            WMATA salaries are public information, they are paid well enough for what they do. I cannot fathom how somebody could say that we need to pay them more if we want people to actually do the work for which they were hired. If they didn’t like the pay, which is already more than any Metro employee I’ve seen is worth, they should have not have taken the job. If they refuse to work, break policy, etc just fire them.

            For 2009, Elevator and Escalator Techs at the journeyman level had salaries of $80,000. Is it too much to ask that a person making $80,000 a year actually fix the equipment they are paid to fix?

      • ESlater

        It’s true both that Metro is mismanaged and underfunded. But what’s with Zimmerman grumbling about this on his way out the door? Where was the leadership driving for change, accountability and efficiency during his 10+ yrs on the board?

        • Lou

          He’s developed the perfect excuse. They never gave him enough money.

          • John Antonelli

            His excuse is not good enough especially when Metro skimped on safety, and yes those deaths on 06/22/09 are on Zimmie’s hands. If Metro had budget problems they should have prioritized and if that means less buses and trains and no night service than so be it. The truth, we can handle the truth.

    • jan

      Yes

      • jan

        wrong spot. I agree with el fat kid.

  • Eponymous Coward

    If you want an additional quarter million or so cars on the road every morning, sure – underfunding Metro is a brilliant idea. I’m sure we have tons of room to accomodate the equivalent of *Buffalo, New York* parking downtown every day.

    The underfunding of Metro is a brilliant stealth way of reducing the size of federal government, since over 100K federal workers use Metro. Remove their transportation, and bang, you’ve got workforce reduction overnight. Surely, none of those people getting off at the Pentagon stop do anything important.

    • Andrew

      Who is removing anyones transportation? You think people are going to quit their jobs because metro sucks? I’ve only been in DC a little over 5 years, but has metro ever NOT sucked?

      • Greg

        Metro used to be first class. The type of system that other jurisdictions cited as the model to emulate. If you arrived in the last five years, you have only seen the worst years of decline.

  • Arlwhenever

    Zimmerman’s had plenty of money for transit improvements. As County Board member he’s diverted money (from the commercial property surcharge) to vanity projects (Columbia Pike Streetcar, Rosslyn and Crystal City station improvements). As Metro Board member he supported efforts to get money for Silver Line when he could have been taking care of business.

    This is the guy who said in October, 2001 that Arlington should let the Pentagon burn next time around if the Feds don’t come up with new funding. It is startling that Arlington continously re-elects someone to a position of responsibility who so obviously holds safety hostage and contemptuously subverts it to other goals. Zimmerman blames the trail of tears left behind at Metro on others who wouldn’t give him a blank checkbook to fund his safety last operation.

  • Jeff Miller

    Metro already receives massive subsidies from taxpayers (over half a billion a year just for operating costs). But service, reliability and safety have declined dramatically in recent years. The system’s greatest problem has been mismanagement, not funding.

    Post columnist Robert McCartney summed it up pretty well this weekend:

    “Metro needs fresh oversight, especially as the board prepares to pick a new, permanent general manager in early 2011. It needs directors eager to embrace new approaches necessary to fix problems that have been building for years, especially to improve safety and maintenance.

    “(Jim) Graham and (Chris) Zimmerman are not the right fit for those tasks. They were two of the board’s most engaged and influential members during the years when Metro failed to build a safety culture and allowed maintenance to erode.

    “They both believe that Metro’s only real problem is lack of money, when in fact ineffective management and governance share much of the blame. Studies by a series of outside experts, ranging from federal safety monitors to private business consultants, have repeatedly concluded that Metro has been poorly run in numerous ways.”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/18/AR2010121802576.html

    • Greg

      “Metro already receives massive subsidies from taxpayers (over half a billion a year just for operating costs). But service, reliability and safety have declined dramatically in recent years. The system’s greatest problem has been mismanagement, not funding.”

      Even if this point isn’t true, it doesn’t matter. If funding is the problem Metro’s management (including Zimmerman) let that message get diluted by the negligent culture of the organization. No one wants to throw money into something that they think is being horribly managed.

      • Skeptical

        Bingo.

        • John Antonelli

          +3

  • Mark

    I find it misleading that he ran his campaign bragging about his time and leadership on the metro board. Then suddenly after he is reelected to the county board he resigns the metro board. I find the timing to be despicable and misleading based on the campaign he ran on.

    • el fat kid

      wah wah.

      • Arlwhenever

        Here is what Zimmerman had to say, January 2009, before the worst of the carnage,

        “I think it can be said, we have seen one of the most successful years in the history of this Authority.”

        Zimmerman continued,

        “To ensure that WMATA delivers, in Mr. Catoe’s catchphrase, “the Best Ride in the Nation,” we needed not another study, but an action plan. The Board’s job was to establish “a cohesive framework” that would “constitute a blueprint for high performance and continual improvement.” That we did last March — we set the framework, adopting (about 40) specific performance goals; and, delegated authority to the General Manager.”

        “The Board consciously adopted this leadership model: We set out well-defined objectives, and we gave the general manager relatively free rein to run the agency. And now we – and the public – can fairly judge the result.”

        “Surely there could have been no greater test conceived than the one that was conducted last week. And just as surely, few would dispute that Mr. Catoe and the men and women of this transit authority passed with flying colors.”

        Flying colors huh? Zimmerman ducks responsibility for injecting the negligent culture and now points fingers and runs away from his record. Incredible.

  • el fat kid

    The thing people don’t get is this stuff costs money. The tried and true scam of citing management problems as a sole reason to cut or limit funding is

    Do I like riding the metro? no. I generally avoid it.

    Do I think it’s well run? nope. try calling them to report a bus driver you who ran you off the road and see what happens. it’s abysmal.

    That doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea and is generally very cost-effective. Compare it to the other transportation infrastructure we’re putting in and you can’t find a better bang for your buck. Almost 40 years ago, when the area was far less dense, they planned out roughly 100 miles of track which has done more for the development of the region than any other policy decision since WWII.

    The area’s population is considerably larger and more spread out than it was 40 years ago when the system was envisioned yet we’ve only added 20 or so miles of track. A patchwork of metrobus lines, 6 or 8 car trains and funding at minimum levels does little to address the regional transportation demands. Yes, Metro needs an overhaul, but it also needs a much greater financial commitment from local, state and federal authorities.

    One idea is a public transportation fund – Developers should be required to pay $2,500 per bedroom and/or 500 sq feet of office space when building new developments. Pretty sure this is actually a discount when compared to what current residents/businesses have paid for the infrastructure already in place.

    • jan

      I like your proposal for a public transportation fund, as long as it were implemented across the entire metropolitan region. That will never happen.

      • John Antonelli

        Jan how much are going to hose developers for? We already hose them for affordable housing infrastructure street tress etc.

        • jan

          Hose? I don’t see a slump in development. I do see the impact on transportation.

          But not to worry….the complexity of Greater Washington metropolitan politics would be too much of a hurtle.

    • 4Arl

      I think people would accept an additional financial commitment provided that the WMATA finances were sustainable. The experience from the recent series of fare hikes to cover budget shortfalls appears to indicate the contrary. Meanwhile, while county services are being cut, the Metro portion of the county budget continues to grow, from $18M in FY09 to $24M in FY11, as reported in http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/ManagementAndFinance/budget/file76591.pdf.
      The WMATA compact and labor agreements reflect a time when Metro was young and growing. Now the deferred and hidden costs are coming due.

  • el fat kid

    ugg. sentence got cutoff.

    “…as a sole reason to cut or limit funding is…” a cheap gimmick used by people who don’t understand public administration or the justification for public transit.

  • NorthAdams

    Highly respected POST Columnist gets it right:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/18/AR2010121802576.html

    So zimmie is saying that after 10 years of leadership, Metro still sucks? I guess his ten years was a waste — what did he do during that time exactly?

    • MC

      I read the same article in the Washington Post and agreed entirely. Zimmerman has been the wrong person for the Metro Board, part of the problem rather than part of the solution. He sees all of Metro’s failings as simply stemming from a lack of funding, and has been blind to mismanagement and the lack of safety culture. In contrast to Zimmerman, board members need to see the difference between supporting the principle of having public transit, and being an apologist for whatever is being done in its name, for example, Catoe’s oversight of the safety débâcle. Zimmerman is too much a party-stalwart to provide the independent critical objectivity to question what’s wrong with Metro and help fix things that are issues of institutional culture, rather than money.

      The myth some people want to perpetrate is that there are nasty people out there who want to see Metro fail. This is a smear tactic to demonize Metro critics who want something better than Metro has provided, by people who expect Metro to be given NASA-sized budgets. The real issue is how to bring accountability to Metro so that it can succeed, and maybe even earn enough public trust to have a bigger budget someday. Right now, there is little trust, much genuine public frustration, and a sense that people are already giving Metro a big share of their wallets. Zimmerman doesn’t get that.

      • NorthAdams

        METRO should look at the Airports Authority. It is a collection of well respected educated business professionals (some of whom are also politicians) are on this regional authority that just kicks ass when it comes to getting things done and doing it right. The Authority Board (unlike METRO and one member of the Arlington County Board whose name starts with “Z”) also lets staff do their job and do it right. A great example and model just in our backyard.
        http://www.metwashairports.com/board_members.htm

    • John Antonelli

      He got and actually still gets free rides on Metro as a current or former Board member. Now to his credit he actually uses them so he gets caught in the suckage like the rest of us.

  • Rick

    It’s obvious why he resigned. His consistent motions to add speed humps to the tracks, paint the sidewalks in the tunnel with brick patterns, put up red light cameras in the tunnels, and last but not least, his request to put condos and apartments between inbound and outbound tunnels were turned down at every meeting. Better luck to mary hynes on these endeavors.

  • BoredHouseWife

    Either they (Politicians and/or Metro) are highly corrupt or they have given up.

  • ShirlingtonGuy

    So I am going to take this from a different direction. Has anyone thought that maybe the metro is just old? We are talking about equipment installed decades ago which has been used non stop ever since. I for one know that no moving parts will last forever no matter how well you maintain them. Take your car for example, I get my oil changed every 3k miles and perform the scheduled maintenance. But at some point I have to face the grim reality that I will yet again have to change my budget to accommodate for a new vehicle. This is the problem with the metro, it’s old and falling apart. No matter how well you manage, if problems are occurring at an exponential rate of course the metro will fall behind. So now if you think of the time cram that Zimmerman has been on board. Look at it like Zimmerman bought a used car, all he gets is what he sees. So now 10 years later it needs an overhaul (new engine, transmission etc.). Guess what? It will cost money, and alot of it!

  • NorthAdams

    well that is interesting … except that the Boston and New York systems are older.
    I think the difference is that our system is no longer an art project and is actually supposed to move people and it can’t do that. and then we spend money on frills — bike on bus holders, cellphone notices of arriving buses, etc and yet not much focus on actually pushing trains thru the system

    • mehoo

      Older systems have had upgrades, etc. Metro is getting old everywhere all at once.

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