Paul Wiedefeld, WMATA’s new general manager, recently met with riders at L’Enfant Plaza, will talk with the new WMATA Riders’ Union Monday, and will field Greater Greater Washington readers’ questions Tuesday. All this could signal the start of a positive new chapter for an agency that has received a lot of criticism for poor communication.

New WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld speaks with riders at L’Enfant Plaza. Photo by the author.

These meetings are the first of their kind by a WMATA GM in recent years. Many riders are meeting Wiedefeld for the first time, and good impressions may be a small shot in the arm that the agency’s customer relations side needs. If everything goes well, Wiedefeld can lay a foundation for communication with riders, allowing everyone some leeway to talk a bit more openly than what riders are used to in the recent past.

A trio of WMATA’s previous general managers held bi-weekly/monthly online chats from 2004 to 2010, where they and other high-level executives would spend an hour or two answering riders’ questions. Canceled around January 2010, the chats were a direct line to the GM; some assistant general managers occasionally contributed as well.

Since then, there have been few similar opportunities for direct communication with the higher-ups. For example, when Jack Requa was the agency’s interim general manager, he turned down multiple requests to appear on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi show, which would have required him to take calls from riders.

Wiedefeld’s chat with us and his meeting with WMATARU, which has over 1600 members are part of a bigger chance for WMATA to turn over a new leaf with its riders.

A report from WAMU likened the type of meeting to one that the Straphangers Campaign, a similar type of riders’ association from New York, held in the early 1980’s with the MTA’s then-chief Dick Ravitch. In WMATA’s case, Wiedefeld will be brand new on the job— he’s even still in temporary housing while getting settled into the DC area.

What are your thoughts on what you’ve seen from Wiedefeld so far? What are you hoping comes out of next week?

Stephen Repetski is a Virginia native and has lived in the Fairfax area for over 20 years. He has a BS in Applied Networking and Systems Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology and works in Information Technology. Learning about, discussing, and analyzing transit (especially planes and trains) is a hobby he enjoys.