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CATOE, THE MTA'S NO. 2, TO HEAD UP D.C. TRANSIT AGENCY.

Byline: Y RACHEL URANGA Staff Writer

John Catoe, the second in command at the MTA, plans to take a job as head the transit agency in Washington, D.C. -- the second-busiest subway system in the country, officials said Tuesday.

Transit officials said the departure of Catoe will leave a vacuum at the $3 billion-a-year Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where he oversaw efforts to improve service.

``It's a huge loss. One of the great things about John is that all the employees respect him and like working with him. He is an operations guy and understands this business top to bottom,'' said Richard Katz, an MTA board member.

``He has a great future wherever he goes. I was just hoping that it would be with us. It is going to be very difficult to replace him.''

Though Catoe is still negotiating the terms of his new contract, the move will take him back to his hometown, where he will oversee its $1.2 billion agency beginning in January.

``This is a bittersweet departure but it's a wonderful opportunity,'' said Catoe, 59.

The son of a taxi driver, Catoe recalled an early lesson taught him by his father: Stand up for the people doing the work and ask them for solutions.

The lesson earned him the respect of the MTA's rank-and-file employees.

``John always begins with a low-keyed, mild-mannered approach to things. He doesn't become forceful until all else fails. It's why he was a good labor negotiator,'' said Kymberleigh Richards, chairwoman of the San Fernando Valley Governance Council.

``Not having him here during the duration of the contracts could create friction between management and the unions. A lot will have to do with who replaces John,'' she said.

Catoe -- a 26-year veteran of the transit industry, came to the MTA in 2001 from Santa Monica where he headed that city's transportation agency.

Catoe gained trust of some of the MTA's fiercest foes, who credit him with improving bus service. Under his watch, the MTA was recognized this year as the nation's best transit agency.

The $280,000-a-year executive is credited with decentralizing the MTA's operations into five service sectors and a governance council that gave local communities greater control of transit lines.

``I have depended on John Catoe's deep knowledge of transit, his innovative ideas and his leadership skills to help move the agency forward,'' MTA CEO Roger Snoble said.

``John's work has been essential to Metro's many successes, and I give him great credit for his role in helping the agency win this year's APTA award recognizing Metro as American's Best Transportation System. I will miss having John by my side.''

The well-liked executive had been tapped earlier this year to head Atlanta's transit agency but declined the post. In Washington -- where he applied for the position -- he will oversee a strained system that serves 3.5 million passengers.

In October, a federal judge lifted the 10-year consent decree that the MTA entered into after a lawsuit accused the agency of discriminating against mostly poor and minority bus riders. Under the suit, the agency was forced to spend $1 billion to expand bus service throughout the city.

``He saw us not as an adversary but someone he wanted to work with. It was a different treatment that sometimes even lesser employees at MTA don't see the importance of,'' said Manuel Criollo, lead organizer of the Bus Riders Union, which filed the original suit.

``John Catoe had a different theory on how he wanted to deal with the public. He was an open person that shared his thoughts and concerns about public transit in Los Angeles. It's unfortunate he's leaving. There is a frankness and openness to him that will be missed.''

rachel.uranga(at)dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 15, 2006
Words:627
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