CEO Stephanie Wiggins steers Metro through large projects.
The Business Journal spoke to Wiggins about Metro’s massive railroad construction program; The interview took place the day before President Joe Biden’s $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure plan was passed.
What has been the biggest surprise since you started as CEO of Metro earlier this year?
Wigs: During my first 100 days, I conducted listening sessions with employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders. The biggest surprise was how resilient our key employees were in the face of the pandemic. Some have worked for Metro for up to 50 years.
What are your main goals over the next few years as you work your way into the role of Metro CEO?
One of my top priorities is financial sustainability. The pandemic was a major disruptive factor. Without Covid aid money, we would be in an emergency. But these aid funds will be used up by 2024. So we’re putting together a three-year financial plan to regain financial sustainability. It will also be an opportunity to minimize cost overruns in project delivery. Another goal is to improve the customer experience. We want to make sure the transit service is safe, clean, frequent, and connected.
What do you mean connected
Bring people where they want to go. In LA, you can reach 17 times more destinations by car than by public transport, according to a study carried out by Metro last year. This study also highlighted the weaknesses in the customer experience when using our system. We need to be strategic to make sure people are connected everywhere. We want Metro to be the first choice people think of when moving around the city.
Is it fair to say that LA County has the largest railroad construction in the country right here?
Yes, I totally agree. We have the most ambitious rail program in the country because of our voter-approved sales taxes. In most subway areas, a railroad project may be in progress – it may be a track renovation or an extension of an existing line. We are building four railway lines at the same time and have another seven projects in different planning stages.
What do you think of how all this rail construction is going to change LA, which has long been considered the auto capital of the world?
There is a real possibility that this will happen where LA is not just perceived as the auto capital of the world. Part of that vision has to do with the incredible opportunities this region will have in hosting the 2028 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. Spectators will not be able to drive to many of the venues; they have to take the transit. Even before that, we have other sporting events that can help raise the public transport culture: the FIFA World Cup, the Super Bowl next winter and the (Major League Baseball) All-Star Game next summer.
How much are all of the supply chain problems and labor shortage slowing down or delaying Metro’s rail construction projects?
So far, supply chain problems appear to be isolated. In the Regional Connector project, for example, we were affected by our steel supply. Some of the steel for the elevators will not be ready in time for substantial completion. But we make sure that the supply of steel does not interfere with the testing of the system. On a broader level, we work closely with our contractors on any delivery bottlenecks and develop countermeasures and workarounds. Our contractors are also investigating alternative supply chains and sourcing our materials.
Can you discuss the issues with the contractor – Walsh-Shea Corridor Constructors – on the Crenshaw-LAX line? How far behind is the project and is the contractor closer to completing the testing and electrical work?
This job took a lot longer than we’d like – it’s two years behind schedule. I meet weekly with the clients of the contractor team. We are nearing a major completion. We expect this by the beginning of next year. We hope that the contractor can hand over part of the route to us by the end of this calendar year. After the major completion, we need up to six months of preliminary income tests. There is a good chance it will open in a year.
What exactly is the Regional Connector project that tore open the streets of the city center in recent years? How will this project make life easier for commuters?
I understand the challenge of conveying this project as it is not a line of its own. It connects three regional transport lines. It will reduce overall travel times and eliminate (offer) more frequent connections and transfers at Union Station and 7th Street / Metro. This saves drivers 20 minutes per trip. This also means that trains run every 2-3 minutes instead of every 7-8 minutes during peak hours. It’s about improving the quality of the driving experience.
The Regional Connector will also add
direct access to all cultural attractions in
Now that Congress is about to pass a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, what do Metro’s rail projects get out of it?
It’s very exciting for us. The bill will more than double funding for the Capital Investment Grant program we rely on. It’s a competitive offering program but we believe we are in a strong position as one of the criteria is the level of investment in equity (low income) communities. We have used this program in the past to deploy the Purple Line extensions and the Regional Connector. We believe this additional funding could benefit the Sepulveda Transit Corridor, the West Santa Ana Branch project (from Union Station to Artesia) and projects in the eastern San Fernando Valley. The other important element is the prospect of Bringing Back America Bonds, a tool we can use to get these projects going.
Passenger numbers on Metro’s rail projects were already declining before the pandemic began, and the pandemic only made things worse. Metro is right in the middle of the most ambitious railway construction program in its history. How do you arrange that?
The purpose we serve at Metro is to improve mobility for everyone in LA County. We understand this passenger numbers issue and it underscores the need to provide a system that makes sense as a value proposition to passengers. We also need to bridge the gap between car access and public transport access. And we have to improve the customer experience – that means improve cleanliness, safety and (train) frequency. We also want people to understand how to use the system so it doesn’t turn into a scavenger hunt.