From left -- Metro bus and rail rider Brian Gannon attended the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s public forum and had the opportunity to meet and speak with Metro’s new GM/CEO Paul Wiedefeld. Complimentary of many of Metro’s staff, Gannon still had questions about service reliability, incorrect information about service disruptions and long waits, especially for night and weekend services.
Photo by Andrea Worker.
When then Falls Church City Council member Dave Snyder was assigned to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) in 1994 as part of his duties, he says he never suspected that his “luck” would lead him to a topic and to work that is as vital to and as challenging for the region today as it was when he entered that arena more than twenty years ago. Now the out-going Chairman of NVTC (a post he has held twice before), Snyder was a key speaker at the Commission’s public forum in Reston on Dec. 17, held in a still-unfinished building at the Wiehle-Reston East Metrorail Station.
Calling for a show of hands, Snyder asked how many in the room had spoken about Metro in the last week. “See,” said Snyder, looking at the upraised limbs indicating the clear majority, “other parts of the country talk about the weather. Around here, we talk about Metro.”
Snyder was followed at the podium by NVTC executive director Kelley Coyner, fellow NVTC Commissioners Cathy Hudgins (Fairfax County Board of Supervisors-Hunter Mill District) and Jim Corcoran (president/CEO Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce), Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board member Mort Downey, and newly appointed WMATA chief Paul Wiedefeld. In addition to the panel of obvious transit experts, a number of elected officials and staff from NVTC and other transportation-related organization were scattered about the room.
With all that transportation firepower, the audience probably expected a night of speeches and information overload, but the purpose of the forum, an outreach by NVTC “to invite the public to share priorities about Metro and to inform the new WMATA GM/CEO” was made clear from the start and admirably adhered to.
USING INTERACTIVE EXERCISES, handheld polling devices that captured real-time responses to questions about the public’s perceptions and priorities for Metro service, and a no-rush approach to individual comments and questions, the NVTC was able to engage the audience and get enough ideas and suggestions to keep those in charge of the flipcharts seriously scribbling to keep up. The event was originally designed to end with roundtable discussions, but the public’s participation and the panel’s thoughtful responses established a flow of dialogue that both organizers and participants were reluctant to disrupt.
NVTC and WMATA members alike stressed the need to better inform the community on all things Metro. This forum, the one held in Arlington, an online survey and recent community “walk-abouts” mentioned by Hudgins, are attempts to do just that. Even after only three weeks on the job, Wiedefeld’s observations lead him to believe “we can do a much better job of communicating with our customers and with our own employees.”
One way for the general public to make their views known is through WMATA’s Riders’ Advisory Council, says Hudgins along with new Advisory Council member John Nelson. Nelson was in attendance at the forum and is “really excited” by his selection to this group. A veteran Metro rider, Nelson thinks that his fellow riders “need to take more ownership of the system. Let’s think outside the box and offer suggestions and thoughts as those who are experiencing the metro, the buses and the access points on a daily basis.”
The Riders’ Advisory Council was established in 2005, but don’t feel bad if you didn’t know about its existence. A quick wander about the room showed that most of those not directly involved with the NVTC or WMATA share your lack of knowledge. “That’s something I hope to help change,” declared Nelson. The council comprises 21 members, six from Virginia, six from Maryland, six from D.C., two at-large members, and a head of the Accessibility Advisory Committee. The group meets on the first Wednesday of the month from 6:30–8:30 p.m. at WMATA headquarters at 600 5th Street, NW. “It’s open to the public,” said Nelson, and he encourages everyone to attend or even apply when openings occur, whether they utilize the system or not. “Transportation is so important to the economic life of our region. Everyone should be informed and everyone should have a say,” he added. From the atmosphere at the public forum, it would appear that the NVTC and WMATA agree.
INFORMATION about the Riders’ Advisory Council is available on WMATA’s website at www.wmata.com. Comments and suggestions are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Specific concerns and question should still be directed directly to WMATA. More information about NVTC, the organization that seeks funding and promotes transit in the region, can be found at www.novatransit.org.