WMATA: Search Underway for the Next General Manager of DC’s Metro System; Risks Presented by GM Job May Lead to High-Salary Candidate

[Update 25-January-2011: Richard Sarles selected to be WMATA General Manager/CEO.]

[Update 23-April-2015: New WMATA post on blog.]

The present General Manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) system, John B. Catoe, Jr. (bio-General Manager John B Catoe), is leaving the post on April 2, 2010. Catoe is an experienced transit manager, yet he is leaving after little more than 3 years (the general tenure for Metro’s General Managers).

Who will be Catoe’s permanent successor? The Metro system will attract candidates because of its location in the nation’s capital; however, Metro presents significant challenges for candidates to consider.

The Metro system’s organizational structure is complex, its capital structure is aging and is in need of an overhaul for its next 33 years, it is an industrial organization in a white-collar, service-oriented region, its funding is generally uncertain, and all actions of the transit agency are evaluated by four jurisdictions, plus the ridership.

I think that the political wild card of having to deal with the unpredictable (often bombastic (witness Senator Barbara Mikulski’s (D-Md. [Baltimore (Baltimore, Md. has its own subway, so Md. pays for two systems (one with the MTA and the D.C. Metro)].) comments) and diffuse scrutiny of Congress may cause a successor to want more money to compensate for the high-stakes risk he or she will accept as the general manager.

In addition, Metro does not have a fixed source of revenue, outside ridership fares and fees and cannot rely on a state for support like all of the other subway systems in the country. This means a yearly passing of the tin cup for your operations, something a potential general manager must consider heavily before assuming the job.

Over the past 20 years (from 1990-2010), only one Metro general manager had a 10-year tenure-Richard White (August 1996-February 2006). The others had tenures of 3 years or less.

Potential candidates will likely consist of transit managers from other transit agencies in the United States.

Interesting Background Facts

Metrorail system age: 33

Organizational Structure of Metro (Metro Compact Article III)

[Four legislative bodies–Congress (federal government), D.C. City Council, Md. state legislature (Montgomery and Prince George’s), Va. state legislature (Arlington, Fairfax, and Alexandria) (subsidy funding)]

Board of Directors (8 members selected from each jurisdiction [federal government, District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia]) [Note:  There are 8 alternates.]

Officers (General Manager, Secretary, Treasurer, Comptroller and General Counsel and such other officers as the Board may provide.)

Subsidy Funding (fiscal year 2010)

Maryland $215.6 million

District of Columbia $201.6 million.

Virginia $129.4 million

Total subsidy $546.7 million (+27.5 million debt service)= $574.2 million

Passenger fares and parking fees: $702.7 million


340 routes (breakdown by jurisdiction not available)

Metrorail stations (by state)

Total: 86

District of Columbia 40 (38.3 miles of track)

Maryland 26 (Montgomery County (11) and Prince George’s County (15)) (38.31 miles) [Note: The state of Maryland operates its own subway in Baltimore, Md.]

Virginia 20 (Arlington County (11), Fairfax County (6), and the City of Alexandria (3)) (29.47 miles)

Metro FY 2010 budget