- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2005

Despite a string of recent embarrassments, Metro officials told Congress yesterday that they are providing efficient rail and bus service to passengers while facing an enormous demand for more money.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill, Metro Board Chairman Dana Kauffman asked the federal government to play a bigger role as the transit agency attempts to secure a steady stream of revenue to maintain current levels of service, as well as expand.

“It’s important to note that we added 10,000 new daily riders in December ” a strong sign that we’re doing something right,” said Mr. Kauffman, who represents Fairfax County on the board.

He noted that many Metro riders are federal employees and said the government should do more to cover the system’s costs.

But Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said lawmakers must take a closer look at how well Metro is run.

Mr. Davis rattled off a list of problems in the past year: revelations that millions of dollars in parking revenue had gone missing, a train wreck at the Woodley Park station, and difficulties with the SmarTrip card program.

To improve its image, Metro has announced a series of initiatives aimed at improving customer service, reliability and safety.

“It certainly is one of the finest and best-run systems that I know of anywhere in the world,” said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

Mr. Millar, who has worked in the transit industry for 33 years, said Metro is effective given its constraints.

Mr. Davis and other officials also conceded that not all the criticisms lobbed at Metro are fair.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, said overcrowded trains and buses should not come as a surprise, and she blamed federal and local governments for failing to take responsibility for the system’s needs.

“Metro has been a victim of its own success,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who supports providing more funding to meet Metro’s growing demands. “If we don’t, it’s going to hurt our economy and quality of life.”

Unlike many other public transit systems, Metro lacks a dedicated source of funding. Instead, it relies on state and local governments. Subways in New York City, for example, are subsidized by a special sales tax. A special panel recently called for such a tax in jurisdictions served by Metro.

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