Metro could reduce its electric bill for subway stations by more than $50,000 a year and substantially improve visibility for riders by changing to direct lights in easy-to-maintain fixtures, acording to a Metro staff report.

The report, to be discussed today by a Metro board committee, is certain to be controversial because it suggests tampering with the soft, indirect lighting that makes Metro's vaulted-arch underground stations seem almost cathedral-like.

Those who have tried to read a newspaper in Gallery Place or have tried to pick out a step on the excalator at McPherson Square may wish for less atmosphere, however.

Furthermore, the indirect lighting in Metro's stations does not even meet the standards established by the transit authority's architectural office. Measurements at underground platforms, for example, have found light levels as low as 1 footcandle -- the amount of light one candle casts at a distance of one foot -- while the recommended Metro standard is about 15 footcandles.

The report comes from a task force appointed by Metro General Manager Richard S. Page at the suggestion of board members who have received complaints about low lighting levels at Metro stations and parking lots.

The savings in the light bill, which runs about $62,000 annually for stations alone, would come both from reduced energy comsumption and lowered maintenance costs. As a minimum the report recommends installing switches at the underground stations so platform light can be turned off when the subway is closed. The present limited accessibility of switches "does not foster a conservation ethic," the report said.

Sprague Thresher, chief of Metro's architecture office, said that lighting technology has moved swiftly since the late 1960s, when Metro's basic designs were drawn. "I am sure that, just as the guys who designed the pyramids wouldn't do it the same way today, we would do it differently, too," Thresher said.

He said he does not oppose direct lighting as a matter of principle.However, he said, any change "ought to be" controversial. "It will cost money and will have a big effect on the character, the understanding, the perception of the system," he said.

More frequent maintenance and cleaning of the existing lighting would substantially improve the light levels, the architecture office has maintained, but also would require more people to work more hours, an added expense. Buildup of dirt particles, especially from brake shoe dust, is a recurring maintenance problem for all subway systems.

If Page himself make a recommendation it will be after the board has had a chance to digest the report, he said. Page is known to be concerned that some of the subway system's early design features are creating excessive maintenance requirements for Metro at a time when budget control is a must.

"It must be recognized," the report said, "that maintenance of this high esthetic standard does not preclude appropriate change."