Several hundred angry people crowded into Hammond Junior High School in Alexandria last week to demand that the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission tell them why commuters should pay more money for longer bus rides and reduced service.
"You want to reduce service, add a minimum of 30 minutes to commuting time, and to top it all off you want us to pay more for it," shouted one furious citizen.
"It's appalling and disgusting," agreed Greg DuRoss, a citizen who spoke at the public hearing.
One by one, the irate citizens told Fairfax County Supervisor Joseph Alexander ((D-Lee), who presided over the meeting, just how unhappy the plans were making them. When a particularly volatile point was made, the room erupted with applause.
The crowd clapped when one speaker threatened to put his car back on the road and waste gasoline.
They cheered when one rider complained about dingy bus windows.
". . . And please let us see out of the bus windows," pleaded speaker Beverly Beidler. "Not only do we miss the flowers in the springtime and the leaves in the fall but a lot of us are missing our bus stops -- we never see them."
They applauded when one young mother explained that the cutback in bus service would "leave me homebound and that drives me crazy."
The plan which brought this outpouring of displeasure from commuters would reduce service on 22 bus lines in Northern Virginia and raise rates across the board. (Most of the cutbacks would involve service on weekends and after 10 p.m. on week nights). The new plan also would terminate many Fairfax County routes, which presently go directly into the District, at the Pentagon subway station.
The Pentagon plan was attacked many times throughout the evening by commuters who noted that the station already is packed during rush hours and that the added train ride would cost more money and take more time.
Kenneth L. Jost, of the Edsall Park Civic Association, told the commission that the added ride on a "standing room only" train would be an unacceptable way for him to get to his job at the Justice Department.
"It will take me longer (by train) than it takes me to jog from the Pentagon to the Justice Department," he said.
Metro officials, however, say the adjustments are necessary to offset an expected $12.3 million increase in costs next year. The officials say they have done their part in making up the difference by instituting a hiring freeze and cracking down on unauthorized expenditures, while they claim to be "increasing controls" over bus operator pay hours.
The Fairfax Board of Supervisors is expected to decide in December just how much service it will buy from Metro this year. The transit authority will decide how much to raise rates and cut back service sometime early next year.
When State Sen. Wiley Mitchell (R-Alexandria) strode to the podium, he reminded the crowd that one of Metro's most expensive accoutrements will emerge unscathed, which Mitchell described as the "sweetheart" contract with Metro employes. That contract, Mitchell said, assures Metro workers of a full cost-of-living adjustment every three months.
"I don't know of any union anywhere with a clause (like that) . . . it's astronomical and totally unjustified," Mitchell told the cheering crowd.
Mitchell also said higher unemployment compensation rates in the District added further to Metro expenses. "If a worker lives, works and is employed in Virginia but is injured while working on Metro, he must be compensated according to D.C.'s rates."
Mitchell suggested that the cost-of-living clause be modified and said that to ensure that it is, Virginia should make its entire contribution to Metro conditional upon "a determined effort to solve some of these problems."
Later, Alexandria noted that the Northern Virginia commission was examining the contract.
During the course of the hearing, one of several in the area on proposed Metro changes, the commission was reminded of the difficulty of living in the Virginia suburbs and relying on public transportation.
One speaker told how her unemployed son had no automobile and was forced to use Metrobus to look for a job. She said she was reminded "how very limited" the bus service was already.
Another speaker explained that his mother-in-law relied on Metrobus to get to her job on Saturdays -- if the Saturday service was eliminated she would lose her job.
But most of the speakers emphasized that they were tired of frequent fare hikes and route changes. The begged the commission to maintain the status quo.
"It used to be that those who used Metro could not afford cars," said speaker Arthur Greenburg. "Now it seems, cars will be used by those who cannot afford Metro."