- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. yesterday said the transit agency will be looking to sell more advertising space and implement a fare-increase schedule to upgrade the system’s decaying infrastructure.

Mr. Catoe said he plans to sell space for advertisements on railcar ceilings, floors and doors and allow companies to cover entire stations with ads to help the system fund repairs to aging equipment and to better test new equipment.

“All of the infrastructure needs to be updated and hasn’t been updated,” he said. “We need to fix what we have today.”

Mr. Catoe said he will introduce a fare-increase plan to Metro’s Board of Directors in the fall that will link fares to an economic index, which would tie increases to inflation. He also said there will be no fare increases this year.

Mr. Catoe, who was sworn in on Jan. 25, dodged a $116 million deficit projected for the fiscal 2008 budget by cutting 220 jobs, mostly in construction.

Metro’s Board of Directors has tentatively approved a budget of $1.98 billion for fiscal 2008, a modest increase over the $1.89 billion fiscal 2007 budget. The transit agency is the second largest in the country, with 337 million riders annually, nearly 1,000 rail cars and about 1,400 buses. Daily rail ridership on weekdays is between 700,800 and 800,000 passengers. Daily bus ridership is between 430,000 and 460,000 passengers.

Additional funding may be on the way with a bill moving through Congress that would give Metro $1.5 billion over 10 years.

Mr. Catoe said the bill, which has been touted as providing dedicated funding, only authorizes additional federal funding and does not name or create a funding source, such as a tax.

Mr. Catoe said he will be putting “an absolute focus” on operations of the 30-year-old system rather than splitting it between operations and construction. The statement came a day after Virginia officials approved funding for a 23-mile rail extension through Northern Virginia to Dulles International Airport.

Mr. Catoe plans to make the system cleaner and upgrade cable connections and parts of the electrical circuitry in tunnels that he said were outdated in the 1960s. He also plans to institute a safety rewards program for employees to encourage better performance after a series of bus and rail accidents earlier this year.

The focus on system operations was timely after severe delays on the Green Line during the morning rush hour yesterday caused by four trains that lost power because of a problem at a substation.

Steven A. Feil, Metro’s chief operating officer for rail, said high temperatures and humidity can cause voltage spikes, and hot days put extra strain on power companies.

A handful of Metro’s senior staff members and Mr. Catoe himself were caught up in the delay, and Mr. Catoe said passengers vented their frustrations to him as they waited for trains.

“If it’s irritating to me, I can’t imagine what it is to our customers,” Mr. Catoe said. “Their comment to me is, ‘Get it fixed.’ ”

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