When O. Roy Chalk departed from Washington, crying all the way to the bank, it was obvious that Metro's new brain trust would make some mistakes.
The public expected the new operators to upgrade bus service at the same time they were planning, financing, constructing and operating an integrated subway system.
It was too complex an assignment to be carried out without mistakes. I made up my mind that I must resist the temptation to criticize or take cheap shots at the new managers.
I resolved that until the subway was in operation, I would follow a see-no-evil policy. But the honeymoon is now nearing its end.
The subway is far from complete. The system is not yet as integrated or efficient as it will be some day. But Metro is no longer an infant that must be coddled and shielded from the realities of daily life. It's time for Metro to grow up - and shape up.
A note from W. B. Larew Jr. of Falls Church is typical of many of the Metro complaints that reach my desk. It says:
"On May 22 I boarded a No. 2A in Falls Church. It was six minutes late. Thereafter the driver drove very fast, presumably to make up his schedule.
"He drove so fast that he did not or could not stop for people waiting at bus stops, some of whom waved and yelled. At other times, he did not stop for customers, apparently when it was convenie nt for him, such as at red lights. The bus was almost empty, so the 'full bus' excuse could not be used. This builds ill will and encourages people to use their cars. Why does Metro allow this?"
I doubt that you will find anybody in authority at Metro who will concede that the company "allows" its operators to drive at unsafe speeds or to refuse to pick up passengers who could be accommodated aboard.
The company always deplores such conduct and asks complainants for indentifying details: the precise time, the route, the bus number, etc. The presumption is that the offending operator will be identified and reprimanded, and that an appropriate entry will be place in his personnel file.
However, the truth of the matter is that only a tiny percentage of the passengers who are angered by such conduct ever bother to complaint. Most who become disenchanted with mass transit just quietly quit using trouble to file a complaint, a significant number are not able to supply identifying data. So there is small chance that a bad driver will be disciplined.
Another example: Some Metrobus drivers are notorious for forcing their vehicles into blocked intersections. The slower traffic moves, the more likely a bus driver is to bull his way into an intersection and block it when the traffic lights change.
This causes traffic to move even more slowly for everybody - including other buses.
Metro officials know that each time the average pace of traffic drops another mile per hour, their costs of operation go up hundreds of thousands of dollars.
They know that their own buses cause many of the traffic tieups they deplore.
They know that the public is bitterly resentful.
And how do they react to this set of facts?
Well, they don't exactly "allow" their drivers to continue to block intersections. But there is no visible evidence that they do much to discourage the practice, either.
One Metro inspector stationed at 17th and K Streets NW or at any of a score of other downtown intersections could compile a list of 50 drivers a day who need to be taught to obey the law.
Iranian students picketed the White House a few days ago. They shouted "Long Live Khomeini" and "Down With U.S. Imperialism."
My Merriam-Webster III says imperialism is the power or the government of an emperor. An emperor is "the sovereign or supreme monarch of an empire." And empire is "an extended territory, usually comprising a group of nations, states, or peoples under the control or domination of a single sovereign power."
For a man who isn't even sure that his own party will renominate him, President Carter must be grateful to learn that at least somebody thinks of him as a supreme monarch.
A reader sent me a clipping of a recent Washington Post news story in which he had circled in red the sentence, "It could very well involve the violation of a federal statue." I showed the clipping to night city editor Bill Brady.
A faint smile crossed Brady's face. "Perhaps," he murmured, "we were referring to pigeons."