- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Metro’s interim general manager yesterday said he does not foresee any rate increases before 2008 despite rising gas and electricity costs.

During a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, Dan Tangherlini said higher gas prices have driven more commuters to use Metro — increasing the transit agency’s ridership and revenue, and offsetting its energy costs.

“We don’t have a fare increase in the [proposed] fiscal 2007 budget,” Mr. Tangherlini said. “As that price [goes] up, it hurts us, but we’ve seen ridership go up at the same time, and that additional revenue has swamped that additional cost.

“The question is, if ridership levels off or we hit capacity or if we have to make major investments to keep up with the ridership,” he said. “If we had stable ridership with increased energy costs, we’d be in big trouble. … The increased ridership has softened the blow.”

Metro, which turns 30 this year, recorded three of its top 10 busiest days last month — with two of the three days not associated with any holidays or special events on the Mall, he said. The subway system carried more than 760,000 riders during each of the three days.

“Our customers continue to flock to us — perhaps because gas is approaching $3 a gallon, because congestion continues to rise, because our economy continues to boom,” said Mr. Tangherlini, 38.

“People have begun to recognize that Metro provides a high-quality service and alternative [to driving], at a very competitive price,” he said.

Mr. Tangherlini, former director of the District Department of Transportation, joined the Metro Board in March 2005 as an alternate representative for the District. His one-year contract as interim general manager ends in February, and he said he would not mind being considered to head the agency permanently.

His predecessor, Richard A. White, left in January after having run Metro for 9 years.

Mr. White, the longest-serving general manager in the agency’s history, oversaw many of Metro’s triumphs, including a 37 percent increase in ridership and the completion of the originally planned 103-mile Metrorail system.

In February 2005, an international review panel said Metrorail was the best subway in the nation.

However, many of the agency’s setbacks occurred during Mr. White’s tenure: a 2004 scandal in which parking-lot cashiers at subway stations were accused of stealing millions of dollars in fees; fare increases in 2003 and 2004; and a November 2004 incident in which two Red Line trains collided at Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan, injuring 20 persons.

Riders often faced delayed and overcrowded buses and trains, and elevators and escalators at subway stations were frequently out of service.

Mr. White assumed responsibility for much of the agency’s recent troubles but said the lack of a dedicated funding source was the cause of many of those problems.

Mr. Tangherlini yesterday said a lack of funding and increasing ridership are straining the system, which boasts a fleet of about 900 rail cars and 1,500 buses.

“Congresswoman [Eleanor Holmes] Norton told me, ‘Congratulations, [Metro] has gotten what you’ve always been asking for, you’ve got riders. It’s your job now to run it efficiently, run it effectively, run it reliably.’

“And I think that’s a change for Metro, in a way,” Mr. Tangherlini said. “Our job was to build it. Our role now is to run it, but there’s some basic things we need to keep the system running … now that more and more people are using it.”

In 2004, three new stations opened, extending Metrorail to 106 miles. The system serves 3.5 million people within a 1,500 square-mile area in the region.

Mr. Tangherlini already has put his stamp on the agency. For example, he checks in daily with Metro Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson, which hadn’t been done in almost a year.

In the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the train crash at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station, it was revealed that Mr. White in February 2005 stopped requiring daily reports from Chief Hanson to eliminate bureaucracy.

Another task for Mr. Tangherlini is repairing the agency’s public image — particularly in areas such as Anacostia, where a 2.7-mile, $16 million light-rail demonstration project has been approved.

“A lot of people in those neighborhoods, and rightfully so, have trust issues with the transportation planners in the city and the region,” he said. “Because every transportation investment that was made here was not made for them, it was made to them. [Interstate] 295 is not neighborhood-friendly. The 11th Street Bridge was not neighborhood-friendly.”

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