Metro Seeks More Police Officers, Authority to Issue Parking Tickets

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. wants to add 28 police officers to handle increased crime as rail and bus ridership continue to grow.

Catoe also wants to authorize Metro personnel to issue tickets to vehicles illegally parked at bus stops to minimize traffic backups and improve safety for drivers, riders and pedestrians.

"When cars are parked there, our bus drivers cannot pull into the bus stop," Catoe said yesterday at a Metro board committee meeting. Traffic becomes tied up, he said, and it becomes dangerous for people trying to catch the bus, drivers and others.

With the additional officers, the 421-member police force would increase by 6.7 percent. The $2.5 million for the officers, which would be added to next year's budget, would be equal to last year's overtime costs at about 200 special events, officials said. The events included marathons, ballgames, the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Fourth of July celebration on the Mall. On Wednesday, for example, the subway system recorded its ninth-highest weekday ridership because of a sports triple-header -- games by the Nationals, Wizards and DC United -- and Cherry Blossom Festival events. Riders took 801,370 trips, an increase of 122,565 trips over the same day last year, officials said.

Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn, who started March 10, recommended the increase to Catoe last week as part of a review of police staffing and placement, he said. If the board approves the request, he wants the additional officers to staff special events and to target crime hot spots in the system.

Assaults on bus drivers more than doubled in the past five years, Metro records showed. Robberies of passengers more than doubled in January and February, with 96 reported to transit police, compared with 46 for the same period a year ago, transit police statistics showed.

Catoe said he hoped to pay for the additional officers, including three sergeants, by reducing the budget in other non-critical areas. Officials will be making additional presentations before the board adopts a budget in June. Board members said they supported increased police efforts.

On parking tickets, Catoe wants personnel to have the authority to issue tickets in bus zones in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Metro can issue tickets to drivers in Metro parking lots, but the agency has never given fines for illegal parking in bus zones. Fines from the tickets go to the jurisdiction where the infraction occurred.

Metro has jurisdiction for 150 feet around bus stops, officials said.

Transit police probably would not issue the tickets. "I don't want to tie up a law enforcement officer, who could be on a platform or on a bus preventing issues," Catoe said.

Catoe said he will ask that other employees, such as bus supervisors, be given ticketing authority. Parking enforcement officers issue tickets in the District, but bus zones are not a priority for them, Catoe said. Parking and bus zones are, however, "a priority for us," he said.

He also wants to target drivers who drive in bus-only lanes, although the amounts of those fines have not been determined.

Separately, board members discussed whether two bus and two rail pilot projects should become permanent and funded as part of Metro's operating budget. The projects, which together cost $6.4 million and are popular with riders, have been paid for by individual jurisdictions. The directors asked for additional information about the projects' performance.

The bus projects are the Georgia Avenue Route 70 express bus service that operates during peak periods between the Silver Spring Metro station and the National Archives, and the College Park-Bethesda J4 bus route that operates during rush hour between the College Park-University of Maryland and Bethesda stations.

The Metrorail projects are the Yellow Line service that operates between Mount Vernon Square-Seventh Street-Convention Center and Fort Totten stations during off-peak hours, and the Red Line service that keeps trains operating from Grosvenor-Strathmore to Shady Grove stations during off-peak hours.

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