- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

Metro parking lot cashiers say they are being ridiculed in the wake of reports that some of their co-workers have stolen up to $1 million a year from cash payments.

One cashier, who asked not to be identified, demonstrated how a commuter recently offered to pay — holding a dollar in his right hand and two dollars in his left, saying, “This is for you. You’re keeping this,” suggesting the attendant would pocket the two dollars.

The attendant, hired just three months ago, said he was shocked.

“I had no idea [about the stealing]. If I had the information, I would have never joined this company. I work honestly,” he said.

A co-worker agreed. “Every time, the balance is correct. I have confidence in myself,” said a cashier from a nearby lot. Both men immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia last year and found jobs at Metro parking lots.

An audit conducted last spring revealed widespread theft of parking fees, but was unable to calculate how much money was missing. Equipment is so outdated that station managers have no way of determining how much money should be coming in.

Outdated equipment stirs up the most complaints, said another cashier at a Maryland Metro parking garage.

“They don’t like the receipt,” he said, pointing to a pad he fills out when customers ask for proof of purchase. “They see it and say ‘You are thief. You’re taking money.’”

In response to the suspected theft of parking fees, Metro plans to eliminate cash payments by June when the parking lots will become automated. Customers will have to use “SmarTrip” cards when they leave instead of handing cash to a cashier.

Some customers were annoyed over the widespread abuse and upset to hear that their regular cashiers had been accused of stealing.

“It seemed an incredibly dumb way to lose money, and the solution is just so simple,” Bernard Schafer, 53, said as he and Kate Barfield, 45, walked into the West Hyattsville Metro station after parking their car there yesterday.

Miss Barfield, who uses the lot regularly, defended the cashier saying, “She is just topnotch. That’s just unfair.”

A five-year employee at another Metro lot was less upset by the accusations. “The customers have the right to be angry,” he said. “If they say ‘You stole my money,’ that’s fine. If they mention my nationality, that hurts me,” said the man, who would not disclose his nationality.

Lisa Renshaw, president of Penn Parking, which operates the parking lots, said in a statement on the company’s Web site: “Penn Parking has made many efforts over the years to get WMATA’s Parking Office to focus on the problem of theft and the lack of equipment that could identify and control that very theft.”

Miss Renshaw wrote that she will fight any efforts to terminate her company’s contract with Metro.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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