- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Metro intends to purchase new buses and improve maintenance to its wheezing fleet.

Since November 2002, Metro buses increasingly have failed to meet the transit agency’s minimum acceptable service levels, measured by the number of breakdowns, trips lost for every 1,000 trips and distance between failures.

The transit agency rates its overall performance monthly using those criteria on an “A” through “F” scale. Its final performance review of 2003 gave the bus fleet a “D.” Metro serves the District and its outlying areas in Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland.

“The numbers should start going up in January with certain fixes,” said James Hughes, Metro’s operations planning director.

The oldest buses in Metro’s fleet date from 1986 or 1987. The average bus in service is around 8 years old.

The agency’s 1,442 buses frequently suffer from engine cutoffs, check-engine light failures and problems with air filters, brakes and other systems.

Heavy construction at four of Metro’s 10 garages have compounded maintenance problems. For example, the $13 million construction of a new compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling plant at the South Four Mile Run Drive bus garage in Arlington is affecting service in Virginia.

The garage is home to 225 Metro buses, and work there will continue for the next 15 months. Another top concern is construction at the Bladensburg garage in the District, where heavy repair and service overhauls are performed.

Transit officials hope completing such construction will free space for maintenance and bring up the fleet’s score.

Metro also plans to solicit bids in February or March for 175 new buses — costing an average of $330,000 each — and for 75 more in July, said Jack Requa, Metro chief operating officer for buses.

All ordered buses would be delivered in the summer of 2005.

“Most will go to the Four Mile Run facility in Virginia, and 38 will go to the Bladensburg CNG facility,” Mr. Requa said.

The Metro Board also has approved measures designed to increase convenience for riders. They include restructuring Route 22 in Arlington and a bus enhancement program designed to make information more readily available. That program will include distributing free maps starting this month and placing maps at stations, said Leona Agouridis, Metro assistant general manager for communications.

Metro bus riders previously had to pay for maps at selected locations. Metro will begin making bus maps available at bus shelters in 2005.

Plans also are in the works to diversify the types of buses Metro uses. New buses could include smaller models for residential routes.

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