Two D.C. City Council members asked Metro officials yesterday to explain why a Metro official ordered the routing of only air-conditioned new buses along Connecticut Avenue while some other new buses serving Northeast neighborhoods had broken air conditioners.
Council members Jerry Moore (R-At Large) and Willie J. Hardy (D-Ward 7) wrote letters to Metro General Manager Richard S. Page asking him to explain a memorandum posted in a bus dispatcher's office on Monday.
The memo, referring to bus routes along Connecticut Avenue from Chevy Chase to the Federal Triangle, said, "These five blocks [buses] must have air conditioning as per Mr. Trimmer's order." Trimmer is Thomas Trimmer, director of Metro's bus services.
Moore is the chairman of the City Council's committee on transportation and environment and is also Metro board chairman.
He said that he had made his own investigation into the question of preferential selection of buses for passenters on the Connecticut Avenue run and that he believed "the allegation to be true."
Moore declined to offer details of his investigation or its findings. The memorandum, dated July 24, was taken down on Trimmer's orders after inquiries by The Washington Post.
In a letter to Page, Hardy said that her office received complaints about "the lack of air conditioning on buses along the Benning Road route in Northeast Washington.
"For too long," Hardy wrote, "Metrobus riders in the Seventh Ward have complained of insufficient services: waits of an hour or more, deletion of buses from published schedules, filthy buses with windows so scratched up one can't see out, lack of air conditioning and heat, windows that won't open or close, and buses breaking down en route."
She said that her constituents believed Northwest Washington neighborhoods recived preferential treatment and asked that Page respond "by the close of business Friday."
Page told a reporter yesterday that Metro does not have any kind of selective policy and we're concerned about making the air conditioning work in all buses no matter which route they are assigned to." A Metro spokesman said that Hardy's letter would be answered by Friday.
The five buses in question are among Metro's 43 new "bend-in-the-middle" buses that look like accordions on wheels. The buses begin their day's work on the Benning Road run. Toward the middle of morning rush hour, the buses' schedules are adjusted and they are diverted to begin shuttling passengers along Connecticut Avenue.
Air conditioning breakdowns on at least half the new $173,000 buses have turned them into rolling sauna baths, say passengers, who have forced open emergency windows to stay cool.
Trimmer, Metro's director of bus services, said yesterday that his instructions were misinterpreted by staffers. "The notice did not reflect what in reality the message was," Trimmer said.
Trimmer said that he instructed his staff "to look into the assignment" of "two or three" of the new buses to Connecticut Avenue after L-7 passengers complained that every new such bus sent to Chevy Chase appeared to have a broken cooling system.
Trimmer said he reasoned that, since half the new buses have experienced air conditioning failure, passengers on Connecticut should have their fair share of the elongated buses with functioning air conditioning.
"We should assign buses in an even and reasonable manner," he said. "I wanted to distribute those buses equitably."
Trimmer said he gave the order to a supervisor on July 23, and the message was relayed to a maintenance employe at the Bladensburg depot, who posted the memo. CAPTION: Picture, Kimberly Strange, on Benning Road bus, finds cool seat near driver's window. By Fred Sweets - The Washington Post