Housing Complex

Streetcar Czar Leaves DDOT Post [UPDATE]

On the way out. (Wharton)

Well, leave it to Councilmember Tommy Wells to break the late night news: Scott Kubly, who has been in charge of the District Department of Transportation's Progressive Transportation Services Administration since 2009, is stepping down. Kubly is perhaps best known for his management of the streetcar, but his portfolio also includes the Circulator bus and Bikeshare programs. Wells wrote shortly after midnight:

News was streetcar czar Scott Kubly leaves DDOT.Big deal for us FOAMERs Scott's a Tangherlini type.Impatient creative & effective in gov't

To translate: A Foamer, Google tells me, is a railroad enthusiast. Tangherlini is Dan Tangherlini, the guy who started the streetcar program as then-Mayor Anthony Williams' head of DDOT before becoming WMATA's General Manager and then Adrian Fenty's city administrator. The rest is inherent in what Kubly has been in charge of doing: Although streetcar planning has had its issues and still faces big challenges (among them reaching a deal with Amtrak to terminate the H Street NE line at Union Station, which I have reason to believe is really holding up the project) the cherry-red new transportation options are the District's most creative and ambitious bid to change the way people get around in this city.

Mayor Vince Gray and Council chairman Kwame Brown showed their commitment to those projects by including full funding for the streetcar and Bikeshare in his latest budget, and keeping Circulator fares at $1 per ride. But taking the transportation committee away from Wells was not a good sign of the continuing bureaucratic support for those priorities.

I don't yet know Kubly's own rationale for leaving, or whether he was forced out for some other reason (for all I know, he's toying again with the idea of running for Council). Will update if I can get more.

—-

UPDATE, Sunday, 10:30 p.m. – According to Kubly, whose last day on the job is Monday, his departure wasn't spurred by last week's committee shakeup that will move DDOT out of transit champion Tommy Wells' jurisdiction. In fact, it had been in the works quite a bit longer—since it became clear that Adrian Fenty, whose breakneck pace Kubly enjoyed, was on the way out.

"After the primary, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to stick around long term," Kubly says. "To me, it was just trying to find a logical point to step away."

In the last few months, a few things had gotten nailed down: A contract for two more streetcars will soon come before the Council, and his team has finished a request for proposals for streetcar operations and maintenance. Meanwhile, the Bikeshare program is moving along apace, with big expansions planned later this year. Kubly made the decision a couple weeks ago, and told DDOT director Terry Bellamy that he was resigning last Tuesday.

Kubly also wasn't leaving for another position. Although he's talked with his former boss Gabe Klein about going to work in Chicago, nothing is firm, and he's now just enjoying unemployment while he plans his next move (which won't involve political office).

It is, however, a warning of the kind of brain drain that can happen when half the city's elected leadership is under investigation for ethical lapses and there seems to be little urgency to get things done. That's the real danger of the taint of scandal: Not, as Jim Vance worried on Friday, that Congress might swoop in and take away what little autonomy we have. Rather, it's that smart, hardworking people will decide it's not a brand that they want to be associated with, and take their talents elsewhere.

  • Sue

    From a public transit perspective (i.e. from the standpoint of moving people to where they need/want to go and reducing their reliance on cars), the streetcar is a stupid investment. Glad to see the "FOAMERS" -- certainly a more apposite label than "progressives" out of the mix. Maybe we'll get some rational transit-planning. I hope so -- my car-less lifestyle depends on it!

  • Karl

    Way to go Lydia -- you scooped David! The city needs more Foamers working on the Metro system and fewer laying tracks to nowhere. Streetcars are from the past so all those progressives are not so progressive and look silly when they talk about connecting neighborhoods -- where did that silly notion come from?

  • Drez

    Klien goes, Wells goes, and PTSA Kubley follows PPSA Ricks in leaving DC Gov.
    It's looking like "progressive" may not be valued very much anymore.

  • Artie

    Comments in December's WaPo piece on him claim DC paid $150,000 for his masters degree. Any truth to this and/or chance we'll see some of that back?
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/debonis/2010/12/scott_kubly_streetcar_maven_ex.html

  • http://marketurbanism.com Stephen Smith

    I'm sorry, but Scott Kubly is not a foamer. A true foamer never would have let a mixed-traffic, outer-lane streetcar replace a bus – which, as Sue points out, provides literally 0 extra mobility for anyone. A foamer would know that there's no sense in replacing a bus with a streetcar unless you're going to give it a dedicated lane, or at least run it in the damn median.

  • LoverySmile

    Kubly = overrated and unresponsive.

    Ever try getting him to a community meeting? Like pulling teeth!

  • realist

    So, this is the guy who is to blame for the streetcar project falling more than 2 years further behind in the 3 years he was here?

    From what I can tell, he kinda futzed the programs he was handed, and completely mismanaged the ones he started. Then again, this is from the same DDOT that was led by Gabe Klein, another complete disaster.

    And if there is any truth whatsoever to the District paying for his MBA, then I am assuming that he has a minimum employment requirement or else he pays it back. I can't imagine a few years is enough to warrant a 150K degree.

    Yet another ineffective city employee who won't be missed.

  • Sue

    http://www.wharton.upenn.edu/mbaexecutive/sponsorship/sponsor-profiles-dc.cfm

    What BS re "ROI" (return on investment) in this case.

  • T

    Wow, there's a lot of crazy, uninformed commentators on this one.

    I'm going to miss Scott... he was extremely effective, and from my experience he definitely was very approachable. He came many times to community meetings, including every time we asked him to come out our neighborhood association in NE.

  • chris cringle

    If anyone in this city thinks that this rail to no where is going to be completed in the next five years is sorely misinformed.

    The rail is layed, but where is the station? Where is the destination? A power source for these rail cars has still not been confirmed, but the rail cars have already been ordered. How does that work? The cars dont meet the street curb. What are the accessability standards for these rail cars. There are reasons why the rail cars where removed from this city and all those pertain to the flexibility of a bus.

    Just another fairground attraction for this DCisney World

  • T

    @Chris

    If you've been to H or Benning NE, you'd see the stations. The curbs are raised a few inches, and the cars have low floors, so wheelchairs can roll right on. There are no ADA issues.

  • drez

    free me from the moderation queue, please.

  • Sue

    Yes, you'd see the boarding platforms, but you would NOT see the power substations or a storage/maintenance facility for the cars, or the turnarounds -- all of which are necessary to make the system work, all of which involve more complicated decisionmaking than building platforms, and none of which have been worked out.

    It's been a ready-fire-aim process from the beginning. the beginning certainly predates Kubly's tenure -- he's not responsible for the cars being ordered, for example. But Kubly has left the streetcar program in as bad or worse shape than he found it. He's punted on every problem-solving imperative and hoped PR would suffice to sustain the project. Impatient? -- yes. Effective? -- no. Creative? -- only if you're extremely naive or extremely cynical.

    What are the ADA issues at this point?

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  • J

    How is he a streetcar czar if there is no streetcar? Kubly has really accomplished nothing during his tenure at DDOT. And he had nothing to do with bikeshare at all. Chicago can have him.

  • Sue

    So did the District's taxpayers fund Kubly's Wharton (E)MBA (an extremely pricy degree involving minimal coursework) and is he moving on a year later?

    The smart, hardworking guy moving on because he doesn't want to be associated with "ethical lapses" (yeah, right, none of them under the Fenty regime) story seems a less credible narrative than guy who botches the streetcar program milks his DC govt position for all it's worth (and then some) and then promptly exits so he's not blamed for the debacle he's helped create.

  • DC Resident

    [Comment deleted: Naming names from behind a pseudonym is really uncool. -Will Mitchell]

  • Sue

    The MBA thing was news to me -- I just did what I could to fact-check it and provided a relevant link.

    And I think it's naive (or disingenuous) to assume (assert) that there's only one person in the entire city who has noticed and is willing to comment on how effed-up the streetcar project has been both before and since Kubly took it over.

  • Lydia DePillis

    @Sue and anybody else wondering about Kubly's degree from Wharton, here's how it was funded:

    "The city paid for 1/4 of the program using FHWA training dollars. Of the ~$37,500 paid by DDOT, roughly $7,500 in local money was used. All of which was approved by DDOT's training office and OCFO. DDOT routinely plays for higher education expenses for programs that are directly relevant to the work of the agency."

  • Sue

    Thanks, Lydia! I'm not quite sure how to read what you've written/quoted. Leaving aside for a minute the question of which pocket, what percentage of the degree's cost was paid for by public funds? Was it 1/4 total? Or 1/4 FHWA plus 1/4 DDOT plus 1/2 private (or other public))? And was there any continued service or payback requirement?

  • Yeah Right!

    Please this guy knew just about nothing about nothing....they sent him over to the Dept of Real Estate Services at one point and he was effing CLUELESS but he knew Dan T. so somehow that made him progressive he was a complete moran! Also, he did nothing at DDOT but take up space until he served out his time to cover the obligation of the EMBA. This guy was also arrogant and not too ethical....as far as going to Chicago...good riddance he can go with the other "moran" Leah Treat whose main lines were I need to go home at 4:45 PM to let my "Nanny" off (while the rest of worked until 9:00 PM an weekends picking up her slack) and yes her best line ever afer being promoted from a Grade 11 Executive Secretary to a Chief of Staff Grade 16 under Fenty (She too knew DAn T.)-- I am here to "manage" not actually do the work.....she was a moran and also knew absolutely nothing about budgets but yeah she was DDOT's Deputy Director of Resource Allocation (aka budgets)......enough said.....District Citizens rejoice all these morans are best left shipped off to Chicago!

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