- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority — whose public image was tarnished after reports surfaced last month of stolen parking funds, possibly totaling millions — yesterday announced plans to make the transit system more rider-friendly.

At the weekly board meeting, officials disclosed plans to improve passenger information signs in stations, which they say have been confusing riders.

Instead of seeing information about one train, riders will see the arrival time of three trains. The display will feature the line, color, destination and number of minutes until the train arrives. That feature is due to be in place by January.

“We are committed to making the signs reliable and responsive to the needs of our customers,” said Jim Gallagher, Metro’s deputy general manager for operations. “These improvements strive to strike the appropriate balance with our resources and the quality of information we provide.”

The “approaching” message for trains will be replaced by a two-minute prediction message, followed by the actual train arrival message, Metro officials said.

“There is still limited real estate [for text] — three lines at about 18 characters per line,” said Don McCanless, director of technology services. “So language is still going to be terse.”

The program will be implemented at no cost because the upgrades will be made by Metro staff. The changes otherwise would have cost Metro $11 million.

Officials also outlined preliminary service plans to support the National World War II Memorial Dedication Ceremony scheduled on May 29.

The dedication is part of a four-day event beginning May 27, which will be coordinated by the American Battle Monuments Commission and the Smithsonian Institution.

Metrorail will operate on a modified schedule during the event with six-car trains operating every 10 minutes from the end of each rail line and every five minutes in the downtown portion of the rail system.

Metro and local bus properties will operate more than 400 shuttle buses to and from the dedication ceremony to various Metrorail stations. Technicians will be available throughout the day to ensure operation of the elevators, which are expected to have a high usage that day.

Organizers are expecting hundreds of thousands to attend this special event, with 4,800 attendees in wheelchairs. Metrorail provides approximately 250,000 passenger trips on an average Saturday when there is no special event.

Metrobus riders will see one prominent change in coming weeks, as the SmarTrip card fare collection boxes will soon be on buses, making it possible for riders to pay fare with their SmarTrip cards.

The new high-tech fare boxes will be installed on more buses this spring and on all buses by the end of the summer.

Metro will equip hundreds of buses with boxes before Labor Day. About 180 buses currently accept the cards.

The program was expected to be in place last year, but was stalled by software problems.

The contractor — Cubic Transportation Systems Inc. — has solved most of the problems and will fix the rest before more buses are outfitted this month, Metro officials said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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