- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

An internal audit completed in May informed Metro that its parking cashiers were robbing them blind to the tune of $500,000 to $1 million per year. Instead of the public transit agency informing local governments and the general public about the serious and pervasive fiscal threat, Metro sat on the findings. Now, it has forced the hands of Congress and regional leaders.

Metro officials clearly are at fault on two fronts: Since 2000, Metro had suspected that substantial sums of money were being stolen from its parking lots and garages; they ignored the problem. In fact, Metro could not even enumerate how many cars used its parking facilities on a daily basis. Metro’s “parking revenue control is analogous to a retail store without a cash register or an inventory control system,” according to the audit, which first was reported in The Washington Post.

Conceding mismanagement as the root cause, General Manager Richard White said last week he and other officials “have taken aggressive measures to bring this problem under control.” For example, the regional transit agency’s parking chief took early retirement, 33 cashiers were fired, and two are facing felony charges.

Still more must be done. The audit made several recommendations, including minimizing cash sales and performing surprise audits. Both should be implemented.

The news of the thefts does not sit well with taxpayers, Metro riders or with Congress — mostly because Metro ignored the problem and because it: A) faces a $28 million to $36 million budget deficit; B) needs $637,000 to tighten controls at parking facilities; C) wants Congress to grant it a $1.5 billion special appropriation for new rail cars, buses, security and maintenance; and D) proposes fare and fee increases for the second time in two years. Neither Congress nor regional leaders can afford to let Metro officials talk themselves out of this one, just because a few wage-earners have been nabbed in this inside Metro job. Mismanagement is a thief, too.

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