Metro in Transition

It began a few months ago when rumors reached my ears that the word circulating among Metro employees at the bus yards was that the Sectors were about to be dissolved.

I took it all with a grain of salt initially. Like any large organization Metro is often rife with rumors that turn out to be baseless or garbled versions of what is actually happening. But I didn't dismiss the possibility out of hand. Art Leahy has been Chief Executive Office at Metro for about half a year now, enough time for him to get up to speed and start deciding what changes he wants to make at the agency. Every new Metro CEO brings to the job their own distinctive management style and usually after a few months start a process of reshaping Metro's administrative structure in line with their perceptions of what needs doing and the best way to achieve same. So I started to keep a eye out for any signs of major changes in the status of the sectors.

Then October 23rd in remarks at the annual Sector Governance Council Meet & Confer, Leahy announced that service development managers (who direct bus scheduling and planning efforts) were to be brought back downtown to Metro Headquarters as an integrated unit to allow the coordination of service across sector boundaries.

Leahy in private comments to Governance Council members said subsequently this wasn't a precursor to the elimination of the sectors, something he said he opposed.

Then with no fanfare the Gateway Sector's general manager. Alex Clifford, was shifted to a new role as Metro's point person on the statewide bullet train network effort. South Bay's general manager Dana Coffey doubled overseeing her sector and Gateway, supposedly until a replacement was found for Clifford. In the midst of this Metro decided to not renew the lease for the offices of the South Bay sector (the only one that wasn't using Metro property for its offices) and was moved into the Metro headquarters building, joining the Westside/Central Sector staff who have always been located there. And recently Gateway Cities staff also were moved to the Headquarters building.

This slow drip drip drip of sector changes became a torrent at the November 19th Metro Board Operations Committee meeting. Leahy stated his intention to recentralize transportation, maintenance, service development and administrative functions as outlined in the staff report for agenda item #48 (entitled "operational efficiencies").

While the report doesn't make it explicit, Leahy in verbal comments stated the position of Sector General Manager will be eliminated in favor of having Executive Officers dedicated by function and reporting to the Chief Operations Officer. Governance Councils will still function and even have a more direct role regarding certain operational aspects, like stops and zones. The two Council members attending the Committee meeting, Kymberleigh Richards of the San Fernando Valley and Jerard Wright of the Westside/Central, availed themselves of the opportunity in public comments to ask pointedly how this arrangement would actually work. Leahy offered some vague assurances but the impression left was the overall plan was in flux and a work in progress. And one has to say with the scant remnants that are being carried over like the Councils essentially the Sectors are being eliminated. The rumor was essentially correct.

Where does this leave the 4 existing Sector General Managers? San Fernando Valley's Richard Hunt has played an ongoing role in bus procurement besides his sector duties as exemplified by the recent presentation he made on his visit to Hungary to inspect the compo buses being manufactured there for Metro by NABI. So it seems reasonable he'll slip back into doing that full time. Mark Maloney of the Westside/Central formerly oversaw Metro's contracted bus service and I could foresee him taking a similar role again also.

With Carolyn Flower's recent resignation I wouldn't be surprised if one of the other two Sector General Managers is selected to be Leahy's #2. Jack Gabig of the San Gabriel Valley would bring to it his years running the Montebello system before joining Metro, mirroring the experience that Snoble's first #2 John Catoe, who ran the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus system, also had before he joined Metro. Dana Coffey of the South Bay/Gateway much like Leahy started her career as a bus operator, has slowly risen through the ranks and is highly regarded by her peers.

One concern is the shift of staff to the Metro Headquarters means a loss of phone numbers with local area codes for the use of patrons to contact staff who oversee operations in their area. Also Metro management has been asked to consider providing Governance Council members local numbers that route to voicemail. This would assist the Councils in  providing oversight of service in their area.

Besides all this Leahy also has other opportunities to reshape the agency with the departures of Carol Inge (chief planning officer) and Rick Thorpe (who oversaw rail construction). The new people filling those roles will have a large say in how Metro deals with its myriad challenges.

All in all Metro looks to be well underway in the transition from the Snoble era to the Leahy era.