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Metrobus Riders Added to Morning of Free Transit

By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2004; Page B02

Bus riders, as well as rail passengers, will travel for free during the morning rush Dec. 16, Metro announced yesterday.

The transit agency renegotiated a deal with financial services firm ING Direct, which originally offered to pay the fares of only rail riders in exchange for blanketing the system with advertising.

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Some of Metro's board members, who think bus riders get too little attention, complained that they were just as deserving as rail customers of the system's first corporate giveaway.

"I'm very pleased to hear that because every opportunity we have to not treat our bus riders as second class is a good opportunity," said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who represents the city on the Metro board.

Graham and other board members, concerned that the promotion would overwhelm Metro's already strained system, also had asked transit officials to consider changing the Dec. 16 date, a Thursday, to Friday, Dec. 17, when ridership probably would be lower. But Metro agreed to stick with Dec. 16 because that's what ING wanted. Rides will be free from 5 to 9:30 a.m.

Graham said he remained concerned about crowding but will "assume staff has worked this out and is doing everything in that regard."

Leona Agouridis, Metro's assistant general manager for communications, expressed confidence that the trains and buses can handle an expected 4 percent increase in riders.

"We feel pretty comfortable on what the numbers will bear out," she said.

ING officials said they got the message about adding bus riders when board members raised the issue.

"They brought it to our attention out of the board meeting and put a proposal together," said ING spokeswoman Ashlee Stokes, who said bus passengers were not included in similar promotions in Boston and San Francisco. "We never had anything against anything or anyone."

Metro said ING will pay $562,350 to cover fares of rail riders and about $89,500 for bus and paratransit passengers.

Stokes said ING would pay for bus riders by trimming some of its advertising. "Maybe we'll see one less billboard or something," she said.

Metro officials said the free rides fit into their newly launched campaign to win back customers after a year in which riders have endured crowding and numerous delays.

The effort to cater to riders, which focuses on the rail system, also includes plans to make individual managers responsible for specific rail lines, retrain employees, hold town hall meetings, host an Internet chat and maintain a steady supply of replacement parts so trains aren't sidelined as long.


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