New Metra board chairman speaks about challenges ahead

The new head of Metra talked about the challenges he faces as he tries to get the transit agency back on track.
April 9, 2014 3:28:02 PM PDT
Former Chicago alderman Martin Oberman was named chairman of Metra in February. The new head of Metra talked about the challenges he faces as he tries to get the transit agency back on track.

Winter may be in the rearview mirror, but Metra's challenges are not. Two months into his new job, Metra Board Chairman Marty Oberman says he is continually startled.

"Many things that startled me about really how poorly Metra was run over the decades from a business point of view," said Oberman.

A $1 billion operation with no long-term strategic plan for funding, no objective plan to evaluate its bosses, and dominated by political interference. So here's a change. Anybody applying now for a job at Metra, and the person doing the interview, have to certify that's there are no politics at work. If they fib, no job, and the interviewer could be in Dutch. Next, the Metra board is expected to approve a new measure that if anybody contacts any Metra employee recommending somebody for a job, that has to be logged, dated, and made available for public inspection.

ABC7's Paul Meincke asks: "So if I call and say 'Marty, I got a guy,' you have to record that?"

"I have to record that and I will politely say, 'Paul, have your guy go through the normal process, but I'm still gonna record it and it will be disclosed publicly that you made that call,'" said Oberman.

The whole idea, of course, is to discourage political hires, change the culture. But what's of premier importance to Metra riders is greater dependability after a brutal winter.

"Granted it was an exceptional winter but when doors aren't opening and doors inside the vestibule are sticking, you kind of wonder," said Dave Wintczak, Metra passenger.

There were lessons learned. And one of the big challenges is fixing or replacing equipment worn by age. That's a long term fight, while there is a more immediate battle.

"My goal, Paul, is that Metra comes to be viewed as a professional run corporation and you just don't mess with Metra. Let us do our job, do it professionally and I think we'll provide better service," said Oberman.

Railroading is new territory for Oberman, politics is not. As a long-time former Chicago alderman- seen as an independent voice - he's familiar with patronage and how efforts to stop it have both succeeded and failed.

To the cynics, he says, watch us and hold us accountable.

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