Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hogan Fires MTA Administrator

It doesn't come as a surprise, Robert Smith, second time MTA Administrator with roots in Chicago got fired by the Republican Administration under Governor Hogan.

The rumor had been out there for a week but the official confirmation came only yesterday. Smith, a likable guy kept a good bit of space between himself and the old MTA that he knew from a first stint under then Governor Glendening when he succeeded in stopping wheels from falling off buses.
This time Smith had wanted to be more ambitious and had envisioned a number of operational reforms especially around bus service. The MTA moves over 200,000 people a day in buses, compared to about 30,000 on light rail and 50,000 on metro. Hired during O'Malley's  term to replace Ralign Wells, an insider of the MTA, Smith had kept low public visibility and disappointed many by delaying the much advertised bus improvement plans BNIP many times.
Robert Smith

How much the head of a transit agency can actually achieve is on display at Atlanta's MARTA and their CEO Keith Parker. The Atlantic Cities (CityLab) reported in January:
He brought more work in-house: the agency developed a real-time transit information system itself for $50,000, he says, while outside firms wanted more than $1 million. And he convinced Wall Street to upgrade the agency's credit rating.
Then he reinvested the savings. MARTA increased service and high-frequency hours, upgraded its bus fleet to natural gas, and—most importantly in Parker's eyes—kept fares flat. As of October 2014 ridership was up for the year.
Reports like this didn't come out of Baltimore while Robert Smith was at the helm. Instead, Baltimore's transit ridership in 2014 declined.
It is hard to imagine that the transit skeptical Hogan administration will find a CEO of Parker's caliber for the MTA, but one should never give up hope. Maybe MDOT Secretary Rahn can make it his hallmark to reform the MTA instead of redesigning or canning the two large planned Red and Purple line rail projects. Should he move ahead with the combined $ 5.6 billion dollar projects, it will take a strong MTA to oversee construction and operation.


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The author served on the transit committee of O'Malley's transition team, had been appointed by then MDOT Secretary Porcari on a Transit Oriented Development blue ribbon panel,  and has worked as a consultant on a number of MTA projects over the years, including the implementation of the MTA Quickbus system initiated under Republican Secretary Flannigan. 

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