Metro Use A Rarity For Half Of Board

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 22, 2009

As Metro contemplates job and service cuts to help eliminate a budget shortfall, some riders are wondering how board members can make such decisions when many of them rarely use the system.

Half of Metro's 12 board members, including Chairman Jim Graham, do not regularly ride the train or bus system they oversee. And even as members say they need to trim expenses and boost revenue, several haven't paid their parking fees at Metro headquarters for at least 2 1/2 years.

"I'm actually stunned," said District resident Jan Poston Day, who rides four of Metro's five subway lines daily. "How will [Graham] know how to advise the management of the Metro if he doesn't know what's going on as a consumer?"

Day, a 40-year-old computer software company manager, said she was even more stunned that some members have outstanding parking bills. "Tone comes from the top," Day said. "There's a budget deficit. Dude, like, pull your weight."

For the nine years he has served on the board, Graham, a D.C. Council member representing Ward 1, has not regularly taken the bus or subway. Now that he's chairman of the Metro board, he said he is climbing aboard.

"I'm going to become a more regular rider," Graham said. "On a weekly basis, I will be found on the bus."

Graham said that last year he rode "on various occasions, both bus and rail." His most recent bus trip was in December. Train? "Every time I went to a Nationals game, because it's a direct shot from the Columbia Heights Metro to the uh," he said, fumbling for the station name. An aide supplied it. "Right," Graham said. "Navy Yard."

Graham said frequent night meetings make mass transit inconvenient. But that doesn't affect his job performance, he said, or diminish his transportation experience. Few D.C. Council members have children in the city's public schools, he said, "but we all vote on the budget. We're all engaged."

For years, he has driven and parked his harvest moon beige Volkswagen Beetle in the employee garage. But Graham is now considering riding Metro to board meetings.

"I think it's a substantive and symbolic issue," Graham said. Still, he said: "I don't want this story to be 'Graham to Ride Bus.' This is not the issue."

But who rides, and who doesn't, is an issue.

Last year, then-Metro Chairman Chris Zimmerman, who represents Virginia, urged board colleagues to "make every effort to immerse themselves" in the system. He suggested a contest. Whichever delegation -- Maryland, Virginia or the District -- racked up the most Metro trips would win dinner from the losers.

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