Brian Lamb and Metro Transit Deserved Better

How incredibly stupid. The newly appointed Met Council Chair has fired the best General Manager in Metro Transit’s history and replaced him with someone who has no transit background. What?

The CEO sets the tone for the organization. I know how important a good general manager is to this transit system because I served under all of them.  At least three of them were disasters. Others were adequate, but except for Mike Christensen, none came anywhere near the excellence that was Brian Lamb’s administration.

During his tenure, the two light rail lines, the Northstar Corridor, and the first bus rapid transit lines opened. The longtime ridership decline was reversed. The bus fleet has never been in better shape. Metro Transit dramatically reduced its energy use and emissions. He placed a premium on good customer service that is reflected throughout the organization. He pushed diversity in the management ranks and oversaw the creation of the metro area’s most diverse police force. He has been a strong advocate for transit riders, whose needs are often ignored by everyone else.

Because of the positive culture he worked hard to create, Metro Transit is one of the most financially efficient, innovative, well-run transit systems anywhere. When the American Public Transit Association awarded it Best Transit System of the Year in 2016, it was deserved.

All those good things happened because of Brian Lamb. Here’s why.

  1. He knows the business inside and out. His first job was working for me in the Research Department, where he was responsible for tracking and studying the productivity of every Metro Transit department. Later he headed Service Development, which plans all the routes and schedules. In the process he learned every aspect of this business.
  2. He is totally committed to customer service. Brian was picked to upgrade the old complaint office into an essential feedback mechanism so we’d know how we were doing. He learned customer service from the ground up by dealing first hand with dissatisfied passengers. Those lessons stayed with him throughout his tenure. And he was a bus rider himself.
  3. He is truly devoted to his employees and to the success of public transit. That has led to high employee morale, a real sense of esprit de corps, and a can-do work ethic from the top of the organization to the bottom.

The new Met Council chair has cavalierly thrown all that away. Why they did it is beyond me. Maybe it’s some sort of power play? What I do know is that Metro Transit will suffer because of it.

Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

18 thoughts on “Brian Lamb and Metro Transit Deserved Better

  1. Nathan Bakken

    As a Metro Transit employee, who started as an intern, I am truly going to miss him, we used to take the same bus home and would chat at the bus stop. He was down to earth and really knew how to run our organization. It truly is a loss and sad week here at Metro Transit.

  2. Damien Tank

    Not sure if it was a Brian Lamb joint or not, but the Transit Assistance Program was started during his tenure as well. TAP provides $1 rides to low and lowish-income users, and is incredibly easy to use. Without TAP, regular transit use would be out of reach for many users, including me.

  3. Christa MChris Moseng

    The new met council chair is a suburbanite. I lived in Maplewood growing up, where she had been mayor.

    It’s going to take a lot of extremely positive, erveryone-wins news coming from Met Council leadership for me to not conclude this is just another part of the endless game of regional spite in the policy and operation of Metro Transit.

    If I start hearing about new bus shelters and a renewed focus on service in the eastern suburbs while heavily-used Minneapolis routes remain cut back, I’ll know the score.

    1. Jemima Aunt

      I currently live in Maplewood, and improved transit in the city has been one of her priorities.

      Why she did this, I don’t know and am not defending. But all-in-all I think she did a good job as mayor.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Doubtful it’s partisan. Could be political, but partisan implies that parties are involved, and nearly everyone who supports transit is a Democrat (or left of the DFL) these days.

  4. Dan

    What a shame. I remembered being really inspired by Brian Lamb when he spoke for a transit planning course I took at the U, and the system certainly has been well-managed in my experience, especially compared to others. Looks like the replacement will be given the task to “bring financial stability to the bus system…” which sounds to me like coded language for service cuts….It already is disappointing what has happened to Mr. Lamb, but it would be doubly so if the purpose is not only a political favor, but to reduce the quality of service Metro Transit provides through a foolish austerity mindset and a lack of transit knowledge.

  5. Frank Phelan

    I don’t have any insight into Mr. Lamb’s tenure at Metro Transit. As an occasional bus rider, the system seems in fairly good shape to me, and there have been nice enhancements like texting to get arrival times.

    But I did get a bit of whiplash when I’d heard the New Sheriff fired Mr. Lamb right off the bat. What insight did Nora Slawik have into MT’s operations in general and Mr. Lamb’s leadership in particular that she could be so convinced it was the right move to take such a drastic step immediately? Had she been keeping an eye on things for some time? Was there some building hue and cry for his ouster that i was unaware of?

  6. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    I stopped by the Metro Transit offices today, spoke with some of my friends there and received emails from others. Everyone is in shock, and there is much unhappiness.

  7. Isaac

    The craziest thing about this firing is that I haven’t yet heard one compelling reason for it. If you’re going to fire a high-ranking official, you should at least be able to explain the action. It feels very arbitrary and political.

  8. Josh

    Brian Lamb was a great employee and truly knew what he was doing. Everyone had confidence in his abilities. I interned in Street Operations in 2014 and got to spend time with him. Very capable.

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs Post author

      For anyone wondering if there was some kind of behind the scenes wrongdoing that led to the firing, the answer is absolutely not.

  9. B Anderson

    I sense a movement towards privatization. Always thought it would be done under a Republican controlled government, but something has turned this new Met Council into an Anti-transit party. The new GM coming from an opt-out city operated by a private carrier who probably have ties to one another. There’s something not so kosher going on behind the scenes here, Governor Walz better step in and sort out what’s happening before it gets carried away.

Comments are closed.