Friday, April 30, 2010

Some advice for Neil McFarlane

While Neil McFarlane won't take over the post of TriMet general manager until June, here's some friendly (if unsolicited) advice as he transitions into his new role.  The advice is freely offered, and worth every penny.  :)

  1. Read--and understand--the parable of the three envelopes.  Know that you may not get three.  Read this.  It may look like motherhood and apple pie, but so many get it wrong.  Consider this parable.  While the squeaky while is often the one that gets the grease; not all wheels that need oil will squeal.
  2. Know your role.  You're no longer running construction projects, you're managing an entire transit agency.  Your old job is a very small part of your new one.  Find good people, and trust them.  Many good people probably already work for you.  A sign of a confident manager is an ability to trust the people hired on by his predecessor.
  3. Pay attention to your critics, to learn their motives.  Some want you or your organziation to succeed, and will tell you if you make a misstep--listen to them.  Some will want to fail, and only try to tear you down.  Ignore them.  I am in the former camp, for what it's worth.
  4. Get the agency's finances in order.  The past year has been a perfect storm of underperforming projects, recession, and bad bets.  Make sure future budgets include contingency for downturns, avoid speculating in the futures markets (rising fuel prices increase ridership, so you already have a built-in hedge there), and remember that lane-miles of trackage is not a key performance measure.
  5. Remember you are in the public sector--where capital dollars are easier to come by than operating dollars.  The feds hand out plenty of capital funds, and public agencies get great rates in the bond market.  Avoid actions which sacrifice your operating budget to raise capital--such as bonding payroll tax revenues, or doing capital projects "on the cheap", in a way which significantly affects operating efficiency.  (WES is an extreme example of this).
  6. Remember that land use has a bigger impact on transit operations than pretty much anything you can do as GM.  So long as most of the metro-area is sprawl; the preferred mode of transport will be the automobile.  
  7. Rather than focusing on expansion, focus on capital projects which will enable you to serve your customers more efficiently--in many cases, this will improve the quality of the service.  Suggestions here include things like electronic fare collection, more exclusive lanes, and signal priority for busses.
  8. Make it easier for people to ride the system.  TriMet actually is, in some ways, a leader in this regard.  In other ways, it is not
  9. Be a public face for the agency.  This doesn't mean engaging in grandstanding, but it does mean being visible in, and engaged with, the community. 
  10. While it is good to seek out new customers, don't ignore your existing ones.  Make sure that expansions to the system are not overly dependent on speculative development for their success.
Above all, good luck!

1 comment:

Keep it clean, please