If you're not exactly in love with the new fareboxes on Metrobuses, join the club. Readers have been complaining to me steadily since these "improved" collection devices were installed a few months ago.

The complaints go right to the heart of what the boxes were supposed to do better. Readers say the calculators make errors, the coin slot is too small, the flap over the coin slot is useless and the dollar bill slot rejects bills that have been folded.

But now comes the ultimate farebox story. If you accidentally slip a dollar bill into the coin slot, Metro may pull the bus out of service and leave a busload of people standing on the corner.

Don't laugh. It happened a couple of weeks ago to Mary McNemar (and dozens of others) aboard a rush hour bus bound for the Eastern Market Metro station in Southeast.

Mary boarded the bus near the FBI Building. She's a daily rider and should have known better. But sometimes you're not concentrating, and Mary admits she wasn't. She wadded up a buck and stuffed it into the coin slot by mistake.

Why couldn't the driver simply open a door and remove the offending bill? Metro spokeswoman Mary Bucklew says this is impossible. The farebox is tamper-proof, Mary says, and you'd have to tamper with it plenty to dislodge a wadded buck.

However, the farebox can be converted to a manual collection system, and every driver knows how to accomplish this. But Mary McNemar's driver apparently didn't want to be bothered. He dumped out the entire busload of passengers on the next corner, declared himself out of service and told the passengers to wait for the next bus. That ate up 20 minutes of their lives.

Mary Bucklew says Metrobuses are put out of service for jammed fareboxes "only on rare occasions." But why are they ever put out of service when the manual collection system is available?

Being dumped on a corner for no reason is just the sort of experience that riders never forget. It may also induce them to stop taking the bus -- which will hurt the system a lot more than losing a few fares would have.

Just six weeks ago, Metropolitan Police officer Robert Remington was killed while attempting to stop the burglary of a Georgetown clothing store.

It was a shocking and senseless killing, as deaths of police officers so often are. But Officer Remington's family had an extra helping hand.

It was called Heroes, Inc.

Founded in 1964 by 150 private citizens around the Washington area, Heroes offers financial counseling to the families of local public safety officers who die in the line of duty. Heroes also provides tuition and expenses to all surviving children who choose to go to college.

There has never been a year in which Heroes, Inc., has not had to sit down with a grieving spouse and hollow-eyed children. That's a painful commentary on the times in which we live. But the pain has been diminished somewhat by the excellent, reliable job that Heroes has always done.

More than 100 families have benefitted from Heroes over the years. But so have the rest of us.

As law enforcement officers and firefighters go to work each day, they have to feel better knowing that Heroes is there for them in case the worst happens. And if these public servants feel better, that can only make the rest of us feel better.

Heroes depends on private contributions, and always has. If you'd like to help, make a check payable to Heroes, Inc., and mail it to P.O. Box 1860, Washington, D.C., 20013. Thank you.

Sights I'm Glad I Didn't See Dept.:

Kevin Kneisley of Bladensburg was driving along Kenilworth Avenue. He stopped at a red light behind a trash truck. Last guy in the world you'd figure for a litterer.

Whereupon the driver opened the door and threw a large paper cup into the middle of the street.


We are nearing the $100,000 mark in our annual fund-raising campaign, but as you can see below, 100 grand is a far cry from 220.

Won't you please help us send 1,200 underprivileged kids from all over the Washington area to camp this summer? Your gift is tax-deductible, and greatly appreciated.


Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.


In hand as of June 24: $98,828.11.

Our goal: $220,000.