Paul Wiedefeld gets raise at as Metro GM, rider advisory council axed
The Metro Board is poised to dissolve its only direct mechanism for rider feedback and advocacy, the Rider Advisory Council (RAC), according to testimony during a Thursday morning meeting.
“You have a serious credibility gap with the public,” RAC Chairman Katherine Kortum said to the board and warned that the transit agency’s new online survey program would not restore the falling trust or ridership that plagues Metro after years of safety incidents and shutdowns.
Phil Posner, chairman of the Accessibility Advisory Committee, recalled to The Washington Times when the two councils worked together to advocate for issues that affected riders, saying, “We will miss them.”
Malcolm Augustine, an alternate board member, defended RAC to his colleagues, saying that the riders council is “the opportunity for the public to be a part of the Board, to receive info directly from the people. The idea to get rid of that is unconscionable.” He no longer is able to vote or attend executive meetings because of a new Virginia law that eliminated participation of alternative board members as part of the state’s increase in Metro funding.
The board plans to vote in October to replace RAC with its new online community “Amplify,” which emails online surveys to participants, which was first reported by The Washington Post.
However, critics say that not all riders may have access to online forms of communications, and Metro designs the surveys with pre-selected questions and answers that don’t replicate real feedback.
The news comes after Board Chairman Jack Evans and board member Christian Dorsey promised the operational review was not intended to dissolve RAC. Mr. Dorsey said the body was “here to stay. Period.”
Michael Goldman was the lone board member who spoke in support of RAC Thursday, telling Ms. Kortum to keep her chin up until the October vote because he believed the council had a “valuable vision.”
The RAC’s influence has waxed and waned over the years with leadership changes but had organized opposition to unpopular changes such as service cuts and fare increases.
RAC representatives testified at every Metro board meeting for 13 years, even if their testimony went unheeded, as Ms. Kortum admitted Thursday, saying to the board: “We have often felt that we were shouting into the void.”
Metro’s board plans to keep its other two rider groups, the Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Youth Advisory Council.
On Thursday the board also voted to extend General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s contract for two more years and give him a $37,500 raise for a total $435,000 salary, over the protest of several union members and two board members that afternoon.