Travelers returning to Washington from their holiday vacations Sunday evening will find that great public-service facility, the Metro subway, shut down for the night at 6 o'clock--even though it is one of the two busiest days of the year for passenger arrivals at Union Station and National Airport.

The other traditional heavy-travel day is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Metrorail shut down at 6 p.m. that day, too, forcing travelers not being met by friends or relatives to use taxicabs or Metrobuses. Buses, to be sure, are scarce on a Sunday night, and the fare into Washington from the airport is Metro's own form of highway robbery, $1.30.

There may be logic to Metro's charging twice as much to ride its buses as to ride its trains when the trains aren't running, but it's elusive.

The foregoing is the bad news for those returning Sunday night. But there's a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Metro's Marilyn Dicus said the transit authority's staff may recommend a modest increase in next year's budget to permit the rail lines to stay open on a few selected holiday evenings.

That alone wouldn't make us a big-league transit town, but it would be a step.