- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

There's no question the area's public transportation system needs to grow the question is, how much and in what ways? Metro officials had envisioned an ambitious 10-year transit expansion plan that included an entirely new rail line and tunnel under the Potomac from Arlington into Washington, among other things. However, fiscal realities quickly ended that billion-dollar notion. Metro officials came back to the table with a more realistic plan that emphasizes above-ground transportation improvements, including about 114 miles of new transit lines, some of which would be light-rail. Another excellent idea is bus-priority lanes that would be set aside to expedite the movement of Metrobuses, and to link their routes with rail lines and stations as efficiently as possible. That's a smart move, especially since it doesn't cost much.

Metro also might consider making better use of facilities and equipment it already has. It's no secret to anyone who rides Metrorail that it could be run much better. The constant breakdowns and delays experienced by commuters are not only inconvenient, they turn away large numbers of people who eventually give up on the system in frustration and return to driving their cars exacerbating regional gridlock. Metro by its own admission is only using 58 percent of its capacity as things stand, at least in part because it doesn't have enough serviceable cars available.

Metro has recognized the problem and has proposed the addition of some 252 new rail cars, so that each train can regularly be eight cars long, as the system originally envisioned instead of the six car trains that have become common. Metro also wants to shorten the wait between train arrivals welcome news to any commuter. These improvements alone would, according to Metro's estimates, accommodate the expected 38 percent growth in ridership between now and 2013.

Most of these improvements are common-sensical and relatively inexpensive yet promise substantial increases in people-moving capacity. We hope that Metro follows through with these ideas instead of just delivering more happy-talk, as has happened in the past at budget time. Commuters probably won't object to Metro getting a bit more money if they see a tangible return on that investment in the form of more efficient travel.

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