Plans to eliminate direct rush-hour bus service from Northwest Washington to the city's main federal employment centers in Foggy Bottom and the Federal Triangel drew angry protests from a crowd of more than 300 bus commuters Monday.

Metro, at the request primarily of District officials, is proposing to eliminate or reduce service on 44 District and maryland bus routes. Many of the routes are said to be "underutilized" and the cutbacks would save more than $1 million in local bus operating subsidies.

If the direct routes are ended, their riders would have to ride other buses and transfer to reach downtown federal areas.

The proposed cutbacks, which come on top of bus service reductions in January and in April and two fare increases within the past 10 months, prompted City Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) to tell the Metro board hearing.

"There comes a point when fares are so high and service so inadequte that people simply stop using the system and start driving their cars. This recently happened in Birmingham, Alabama, where the city was forced to shut down the entire bus system. . . . Metro (is) very close to the day when it, too, will self-destruct."

Shackleton and more than 50 speakers at the four-hour hearing at Woodrow Wilson High School opposed the elimination of the direct downtown bus service, particularly bus routes D1 from Glover Park, D3 along MacArthur Boulevard NW, L5 along Connecticut Avenue NW, N1 and N3 along Massachusetts Avenue NW and S1 along 16th Street NW.

"You're cutting not just one or two lines to Foggy Bottom, but every line. Absolutely everything . . . all service for people who live in one section of the city," said Philip Taylor, who commutes daily on the N1 or N3 to the State Department.

A fellow State Department employe and N1 and N3 rider, Teresita Schaffer, said, "Last October the State Department and several other agencies changed their working hours to make it possible for us to catch rides on rush-hours buses in the evening. . . . (It is) grotesque that Metro is proposing, only a few months later, to eliminate all the bus service between the department and most of the Northwest area."

Metro officials explained to a handful of people remaining after the hearing that while direct bus service would be eliminated to Foggy Bottom, Potomac Park (near the Interior Department) and the Federal Triangle, service on other bus routes that end at Farragut Square would be increased somewhat. However, riders would have to transfer to other buses or to the subway to get to the State Department, Interior and agencies in the Federal Triangle.

Joseph Chesen who lives in Chevy Chase and commutes on the L5 down Connecticut Avenue to Foggy Bottom, said changing buses "will double my travel time, now 18 to 20 minutes," Foggy Bottom, he said, was "the only area of downtown Washington discriminated against with no Metro subway service, (and) should not be further penalized" by the elimination of direct bus service.

Many speakers at Monday night's hearing questioned the claim that the direct downtown routes are underutilized, and criticized Metro and District officials for failing to make ridership figures available to the public.

While no ridership figures were published before the hearing, residents remaining at the end were shown the results of a March Metro ridership survey on the direct downtown buses. Metro found that while many of the buses were frequently full, others might have a dozen or fewer passengers, according to Richard J. Dawson, acting head of Metro's transit route development branch.

On the L5 Connecticut Avenue buses, which would be discontinued, there are nine buses in both morning and evening rush hours. On one survey day, the morning buses carried 24, 28, 71, 51, 39, 37, 69 and 50 passengers, Dawson said. (One bus failed to appear.) The L5 evening buses, like most afternoon rush-hour buses, carried fewer passengers, he said.

Thus, half the L5 buses on that March morning had standing-room-only by the time they reached Farragut Square, where the counts were taken. The average bus seats 47 passengers and is considered full at 65, although in rush hours as many as 80 riders may squeeze themselves onto a bus, Dawson said.

Similar ridership was found on the other Northwest buses to downtown federal areas. Of the 12 morning N1 buses that go down Massachusetts Avenue, 50 percent were found to have standing-room-only on one survey morning -- with 69 passengers on one N1 bus and from 56 to 59 passengers on five others. One bus contained as few as 12 passengers, said Dawson.

lwritten comment on the proposed changes for District and Montgomery County bus routes may be made until May 25. The regional Metro board is expected to make the decision on the changes in late June, after receiving recommendations from Metro and local transportation officials.