- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Metro’s top official concedes that 2004 has been a tough year, particularly for rail service.

Metro Chief Executive Officer Richard A. White blames some of the reliability and service problems on continued funding issues. But Mr. White said yesterday that other problems — including employee conduct — are management issues.

“My gut tells me we’re at a situation driven about 75 percent by funding deferrals and 25 percent under the control of the organization,” Mr. White said during a year-end sit-down with reporters.

The transit agency repeatedly cut staff and services for years before asking for back-to-back fare increases in 2003 and 2004.

“I’ve been basically advising the board I don’t think there’s that much further we can go” to cut costs internally, Mr. White said.

Metro is celebrating an influx of cash to make capital improvements. The Board of Directors recently approved a $3.3 billion Metro Matters funding agreement that will help bring eight-car rail trains to about one-third of the system. It also will add buses.

The planned funding will come from local jurisdictions as well as the federal government. Mr. White said it will take about three years for the public to realize many of the planned improvements.

Metro has ordered 184 new rail cars and should see a prototype in early next year. If all goes well, Mr. White expects to have most of the order filled during 2006, which will allow expansion to eight-car trains from the current four- and six-car setup.

Metro’s hope is by that time the region will be willing to endorse a permanent source of funding for transit. Last week, a blue ribbon panel recommended a regional sales tax to help fund the transit system.

“That was a very bold step,” Mr. White said.

He said the most basic conclusion is that the region will continue to have transportation problems without a committed investment in Metro.

The question now is how the funding proposal will go over politically.

Metro hopes customers will remember 2004 as a year for service expansion. Metro opened two additional stations on the Blue Line in Prince George’s County and a Red Line station in Northeast. It also added 1,200 parking spaces at the West Falls Church station and 1,500 parking spaces at the Grosvenor station.

Mr. White describes his goals for next year as a “back-to-basics approach” that will focus on “safe, reliable, clean and enhanced customer-focused service for the 1.3 million customers who use Metrorail, Metrobus in Metro Access each weekday.”

Mr. White said Metro will move forward on steps to improve customer service and reliability.

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