- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The carpet inside Metro rail cars should be ripped out because it looks shabby and is too expensive, says John B. Catoe Jr., the agency’s new general manager.

“That’s like having carpet on the Mall,” said Mr. Catoe, in his second month on the job. “I mean, come on, let’s be real. Nice to do. Real world tells you it’s expensive, it doesn’t look good — particularly when it snows and you bring a lot of salt in there. And it doesn’t smell very good after it gets wet.”

Mr. Catoe said that his outsider status has helped him spot places for improvement and that the floor covering is just the beginning. He wants rail cars to look more like those in New York City, with plenty of room to stand and fewer places to sit.

Mr. Catoe, who had served as deputy chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the carpet should be replaced with the “vinyl-type, rubberized floor” used by other urban rail systems.

The suggestion is just one of several by Mr. Catoe to close a $116 million budget gap without resorting to the steep fare increase proposed by his predecessor.

Earlier this month, Mr. Catoe announced plans to phase out Metro’s construction department, which employs 100 people. He said the agency should focus on operating the system now that its board of directors has decided any expansion of the rail system will be handled by local and state governments.

Mr. Catoe said more job cuts would be coming. He declined to give specifics, but said the cuts would affect every non-operational department.

Though Mr. Catoe hopes to avoid a fare increase in the 2008 budget, he anticipates asking the board to implement a new fare policy linking fares to inflation. Indexing fares will help the agency absorb increasing fuel prices and health costs, he said.

As Metro struggles to make ends meet, it also must deal with an increasing number of passengers during rush hour. On some lines, it’s not uncommon for passengers to let several trains go by because they can’t squeeze on board.

The agency intends to switch to eight-car trains, the longest the system can accommodate. It now runs six- and four-car trains most of the time. But that change will require purchasing 300 more cars and will be possible only through long-term funding.

Mr. Catoe said the agency also is seriously looking at increasing capacity by changing the configuration of the rail cars. With rows of seating and a narrow center aisle, the cars’ current layout doesn’t fit as many passengers as a train with bench seating on the perimeter.

“To reconfigure the cars is a no-brainer,” he said.

However, Metro will not make the transition until after collecting data on passengers’ reactions from two test cars with different seating configurations.

Mr. Catoe said some ideas don’t need more testing.

Metro, for instance, recently began trying out colored lights to replace the standard white ones that light up the platform edge to warn of an approaching train. The initial reason was that the colored lights use less energy, and officials considered using colors to match each line in the system.

But Mr. Catoe said he has settled on red ones because he likes them from a safety standpoint.

“What’s the international color for stop?” he asked.

Another idea is spring-loaded overhead handles to give passengers something to hold on to if they can’t reach the bar that runs along the ceiling. Officials put them in a test car last month.

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