Rider Panel to Advise Metro on Service
Advocates Consider Agency's Initiatives 'Too Timid'

By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 2005; Page B01

Metro board Chairman T. Dana Kauffman announced yesterday that he plans to form an advisory committee of riders to gather insight from "actual customers who use our services."

The initiative was one of many announced by Kauffman to improve the transit agency's image, service and accountability. He said that Metro will for the first time allow public comments at its monthly board meetings beginning in April and will hold town hall-style meetings in Virginia, Maryland and the District this year. Metro held its first such meeting in November.

Material prepared for Metro board meetings will be provided over the Internet starting in March. The Web casts will begin in June, and board members will answer e-mails at boardofdirectors@wmata.com by spring.

Kauffman, who represents Fairfax County on the board and assumed its chairmanship last month, said that after completing construction of the original subway system, "we momentarily lost our footing." He added that "to advance and grow the partnership that made this system a source of regional pride, we must constantly be committed to the basics of daily service."

The focus on riders follows a similar pledge by transit officials in November to get "back to basics" and reconnect with users who ride crowded trains and who have suffered through a series of breakdowns, accidents and other service problems.

Metro Chief Executive Richard A. White announced then that managers would be appointed to monitor each subway line and that station managers, train operators and other employees would be retrained.

Despite the open-door policies, rider advocates said they were somewhat underwhelmed by Kauffman's ideas.

"They're taking a lot of small steps, but the bottom line is they're too timid," said Jack Corbett, co-founder of the MetroRiders.org passenger advocacy group. Corbett added that the rider advisory committee "is too timid a step given this board's lack of experience with Metrobus and Metrorail."

Corbett said he is instead pushing for a seat on the Metro board for a rider, similar to the setup in New York, where riders hold non-voting positions on its transit board.

Kauffman, who has served on the board since 1996 and said he has been a Metro user since 1981, committed to creating the riders advisory committee by July 1. Transit officials said the committee would include members from each jurisdiction Metro serves, but other details have not been worked out.

Kauffman said that he considered the advisory committee a first step and that if it didn't work out, he would weigh the idea of adding a passenger to the board. He noted that such a move would require a change in Metro's operating agreement that would have to be approved by governments in Virginia, Maryland and the District.

Sierra Club representative Dennis Jaffe said he welcomed the changes, some of which he has been recommending to board members. But he cautioned that the measures could be toothless if they weren't developed properly.

"It's critical that the passenger advisory committee have sufficient resources so it's an effective resource for riders," he said. "More work needs to be done in fleshing out the details."

In his remarks, Kauffman called on leaders from across the region to hold a summit by the middle of the year to secure a dedicated funding source for Metro. Kauffman also said the federal government needs to be a bigger partner in Metro's future. A special panel concluded this year that Metro needs a steady revenue source, such as a regional tax, to maintain current service and grow.

"I don't underestimate the enormous challenge all our stakeholders will face to establish the stable and reliable funding we need to keep America's subway in good repair," Kauffman said. "However, we've been talking about this since 1979. Now, we must test to see if anyone's listening."

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, plans to hold a hearing this morning on Metro funding.

2005 The Washington Post Company