- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

Metro officials yesterday considered putting fewer seats in subway cars to allow for more standing room and reduce the amount of time riders wait on platforms.

The idea was one of five the agency’s board of directors discussed during its weekly meeting. However, board members said they would discuss the plans with customers before making a final decision or starting a pilot program.

Gordon Linton was among the board members who wanted riders involved in making decisions and suggested putting them in focus groups.

“Overall, this is worthwhile to examine the long- and short-term benefits of the car configurations,” said Mr. Linton, who represents Maryland on the board.

Board members acknowledged that such changes might not ease overcrowding, but said they would at least reduce the number of riders waiting on platforms.

Most of Metro’s rail cars have 64 seats and can hold 193 sitting and standing riders.

One of the five plans was to put just 16 seats in cars to increase their capacity to 225 riders.

Another suggestion was to use longitudinal seats, similar to those in the New York City subway system, to increase total capacity to 202 riders.

However, Pat Porzillo, Metro’s chief engineer of operations, said adding such seats to existing cars would be too expensive.

Charles Deegan, another Maryland board member and a Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation official, said rider comfort is just as important as improving efficiency.

He said riders like to read or catch up on paperwork during their commute and probably would like to sit while doing those activities.

“The emphasis has to be on customer service,” Mr. Deegan said. “We have to put our customers first to get back to being that world-class organization.”

Board members agreed on the need for a balance between efficiency and customer satisfaction.

“Part of the goal is not just to squeeze more people on the cars, but to make the experience better,” said Christopher Zimmerman, a board member from Arlington County.

Board members also discussed plans for a living wage for contract employees, but postponed a decision until completing a report in two months.

One concern was whether to give the increase to employees working under 30 existing contracts, which would cost the agency at least $5 million more a year.

The contracts are worth $80 million in the agency’s roughly $1 billion annual budget. The contract employees perform such work as cleaning, landscaping and attending to parking lots.

“We should compensate people fairly,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “If we really want a world-class organization, we have to pay all [employees] accordingly.”

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