Our Metro system needs money, right? Nobody can agree on where it should come from, but everybody seems to agree that pumping new funds into the aging system would do wonders.
But how to get the money? Metro has already raised fares, of course. And it has contemplated things like selling advertising space on the insides of tunnels.
These don't go far enough, in my opinion. What we need is creativity. I have some surefire money-raising ideas that Metro's overlords should start considering immediately, if not sooner:
* Introduce first-class cars on trains and first-class seating on buses. If we're going to do "Lexus lanes" on the Beltway, why not see what the public transportation market will bear?
* Open dining cars on selected trains. People are going to eat and drink anyway. Metro might as well raise some dough by selling overpriced muffins and $4 coffees. (Or we could go another direction and save money by starting a program similar to the Adopt-a-Road schemes that keep area highways spiffy: "Adopt-a-Train -- This Train Kept Clean By the Federman Family.")
* Convert selected Metro stations into fitness centers. Broken-down escalators could be billed as "stationary StairMasters." Broken elevators can be turned into saunas or steam rooms. Surly station managers could serve as personal trainers, shouting "Feel the burn, maggots!" as flabby commuters do pull-ups from the horizontal hold bars of disabled Metro cars.
* Enter the toughest Metro Transit Police officers in "extreme fighting" competitions. Prize money from these no-holds-barred, pay-per-view slugfests could be reinvested in the subway infrastructure.
* Rent stations out for private functions. With their vaulted ceilings and spooky lighting, underground Metro stations have an ambience that can't be beat for your next wedding, bachelor party, or bar or bat mitzvah.
* Rent underground stations out to that race of deformed, atom bomb-loving mutants who were last seen in "Beneath the Planet of the Apes."
* Work with Mark Burnett, the producer behind "Survivor," to create "Stand Clear, Doors Closing," a reality TV show set on the Metro.
* Sell naming rights to all of the stations. It works for stadiums and can bring in big bucks.
For starters, Metro should order institutions that have had a free ride for far too long to finally pay their fair share. Why should Catholic University, George Washington University, Howard University and other colleges benefit from having their names on Metro stations? If they don't pony up, sell the rights to the highest bidder. Brookland/Catholic University could be Brookland/Colonel Brooks Tavern, for example, and Foggy Bottom/George Washington University could be Foggy Bottom/Ahmed's Hot Dog Cart (Closed Weekends).
Similarly, the White Flint and Prince George's Plaza stations should get new names unless those shopping centers chip in. If the Pentagon can afford to throw money at expensive toilet seats and missile defense systems, it can easily spend a million bucks a year to tack its name onto the Metro station its employees use.
Metro could be creative in other ways. It's a simple matter to change the Landover station to "Land Rover" and Cheverly to "Cheverly Chase Bank (Member FDIC)." And who wouldn't love catching the train at Forest Glenlivet?
Would it really be such a hardship to start calling the Clarendon station "Claritin" if it meant more eight-car trains and working escalators?
What else could Metro do? E-mail your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The reason I had Metro on the mind was because of the story this week about the Transit Police officer who arrested a pregnant woman at the Wheaton station for talking too loudly on her cell phone.
I confess that, for an instant, a part of me was glad a loud, foul-mouthed cell phone user had been taken to task. (If that's what she was. She said she was loud but denies swearing.) But then reason prevailed and I decided wrestling a pregnant woman to the ground was probably a bad idea.
I wouldn't go so far as to say we need to ban cell phones on the Metro. They do come in handy, mainly to make variations on this phone call: "The train is stopped just outside the station for some reason. I'll call again to let you know when you can leave the house and come pick me up."
Now that cell phones can be used for more and more things, it isn't just talking on them that can be troubling. Last summer, a woman sitting in front of me on the Red Line kept using her cell phone to snap a digital picture of a red spot on her arm. She did it again and again until, presumably, she got one she liked. Then she used the phone's e-mail function to send it off to someone.
The whole thing was a little gross, but maybe she had a dermatologist somewhere who was tracking her suspicious mole in real time.
In case you missed my announcement a while back, we've picked a school to benefit from those grocery store programs that donate a bit of money for each purchase you make there.
This year's school is Margaret Murray Washington Career High School in the District. Its students showed the highest percentage increase in attendance from 2002 to 2003.
If you don't already designate another school, I hope you'll turn your allegiance to M.M. Washington. The school is signed up with Giant's Bonus Bucks and Safeway's Club cards and will soon be part of similar programs at Food Lion and Harris Teeter.