A majority of Metro directors, who set policy for the region's subway and bus system, say they have never ridden a Metrobus or can't recall the last time they did. About half rarely or only occasionally ride the subway. And none is a daily passenger on either bus or train.
In interviews, 10 of the 12 board members characterized their use of Metrobus and Metrorail. Eight said they had either never ridden a Metrobus or could not recall the last time they had climbed aboard. Two members said they rarely rode the subway or could not recall the last time they had. Five said they rode occasionally.
A handful of the suburban representatives said they rode the subway to the weekly meetings at Metro's downtown headquarters. Others, including the District representatives, said they were likely to drive to the meetings and park in their free, reserved parking spots in the garage beneath headquarters near MCI Center.
Board member Marcell Solomon did not respond to several telephone messages seeking characterization of his travel patterns.
Only one board member, Charles Deegan of Prince George's County, agreed to release records of travel in the system based on use of his Metro-issued SmarTrip card. Other board members said releasing information based on use of the electronic fare cards would invade their privacy.
Records show that Deegan, the newest member of the Metro board, has been riding the trains and buses frequently since his appointment in June. He used his card 57 times from June to November to board a train or a bus.
"I really enjoy riding the train and the buses, and that's how I learn," said Deegan, who lives in Beltsville and has spent free time exploring the subway lines and buses since joining the Metro board. "The big thing is to experience what the public experiences. That's the way to have any credibility as a board member, I believe."
Deegan said the public has a right to know whether he uses the system, especially since the public pays for his SmarTrip card. "It's just the right thing to do," he said.
Metro provides each director with a free SmarTrip card good for unlimited travel on Metrobus and Metrorail. The plastic, reusable card is embedded with a computer chip that is registered to each user and can be loaded with as much as $200 in fares. Metro maintains electronic records of SmarTrip activity.
The other 11 board members did not disclose their SmarTrip data.
Gladys Mack, who represents the District on the Metro board, said: "I am just very sensitive with what happens with private information that is collected electronically. It's just kind of a fetish I have. I am just really concerned about my information being shared."
David Catania, a D.C. Council member who serves on the Metro board, initially approved release of his SmarTrip data but withdrew permission after consulting other board members. "It's nobody's business," he said.
Several board members said that releasing their SmarTrip data would shake the confidence of the riding public in the confidential nature of SmarTrip information.
"I don't want any of the customers to think this data is readily available," said Catherine Hudgins, who represents Fairfax County. "If we start with the board members, it will open the door to something I don't think is very good. "