Carmen E. Turner, Metro's newly appointed general manager, plans to take what she described as "very aggressive" steps to control costs in an attempt to curb the transit system's multimillion-dollar deficits.

"We are moving toward a lean, thin, tightly managed, efficient organization," Turner said last week in her first interview since being appointed by the transit authority's board of directors. "I'm a pretty tough manager, frankly. I don't think you should be fooled by the fact that I'm soft-spoken."

The system's mounting deficit long has been viewed by Washington-area officials as a key issue for the transit agency. Richard S. Page, Metro's former general manager, had termed rising costs "the single biggest problem" facing the bus and subway system.

In the current fiscal year the deficits, subsidized by local governments from real estate taxes and other revenues, are expected to exceed $200 million. The gap between Metro's expenses and its income from fares and other sources has increased at an annual rate that has outstripped inflation.

Turner, 53, a former civil rights official for the U.S. Department of Transportation who has been a Metro administrator since 1977, said she would press for "increased productivity" from the transit agency's 7,000 employes and would hold employment to its current level. This follows cost-cutting goals suggested by Metro's board.

Turner also said that she would seek to negotiate contracts with labor unions representing Metro employes, instead of turning to arbitration panels to settle disputes. Negotiations offer "greater opportunity to control your costs," she said.

As Metro's assistant general manager for administration, Turner was in charge of labor relations and showed a preference for contract negotiations rather than arbitration. Negotiations are under way with Local 689 of the Amalagamated Transit Union, representing nearly 5,500 bus drivers, subway operators, mechanics and other workers. Arbitration has not been invoked.

Turner said that she favors some form of regional tax to finance public transportation, a scheme long advocated by many transit officials. Prospects for establishing such a tax remain uncertain, she said. She declined to discuss possible changes in bus or subway fares, saying that she had not fully examined the issue.

Turner, the first black woman to run a major U.S. transit system, made several other points:

She said that she would seek to "improve significantly" the relationship between Metro's staff, which she heads, and the transit authority's board of directors. Page and some board members previously had urged steps to prevent friction between the agency and the board.

The transit authority, Turner said, will continue its recently stepped-up efforts to make bus and subway service more dependable. "That is our primary goal," she said. Recent moves have included building new bus maintenance garages, buying new buses and renovating old ones, hiring additional mechanics and shifting mechanics to areas where bus service is least reliable.

Plans to extend subway service through Alexandria to a new Huntington station in Fairfax County by the end of this year are on schedule, she said, and moves are under way to review plans for extending Red Line service next year through Northwest Washington to the Shady Grove stop in Montgomery County. Last week, Turner said, she asked the District of Columbia and Montgomery County governments to set up a special committee to study costs, timing and level of service on the proposed Red Line extension.

Turner said that she views with "particular concern" the transit authority's goals of providing construction work for black- and other minority-owned firms, jobs for minorities and women, and adequate service for low-income persons and others who depend heavily upon public transportation. She previously supervised Metro's civil rights efforts. She said that she does not intend to change the transit authority's equal-opportunities practices.

No shifts are planned among senior officials on the transit agency's staff, she said, explaining: "The rest of the team is on board, and I'm glad to have them on board." Two of Metro's current assistant general managers, William A. Boleyn and Theodore G. Weigle, had been among the top contenders for the general manager's post.

Turner, whose appointment as general manager is effective July 14, was chosen in a surprise move by Metro's politically fragmented board of directors after the board became deadlocked on other candidates. She had not sought the job. In May, when she was picked as an interim replacement for Page, board members said they had chosen her partly because she was not in the running for the permanent post.

In the interview, Turner said that she was not prepared to comment on some issues because she had had only two days two consider them. "You give me three months, and I can be a lot more specific in some of these areas," she said at one point.

Two of Turner's predecessors, Page and Theodore C. Lutz, now vice president and controller of The Washington Post, have called the general manager's job an arduous one and have questioned whether any administrator is likely to remain in that post for more than four or five years, because of political and other pressures.

But Turner says: "I've had some pretty tough jobs in my life . . . . I expect to be here for a while."

In her government career, Turner rose from what she described as a GS-2 position as an IBM machine operator for the Veterans Administration in 1951, through clerical and administrative jobs for the Treasury Department and the Army, to a senior civil rights position in the U.S. Transportation Department.

As the deputy civil rights director for the Urban Mass Transportation Administration and the acting civil rights chief for the Transportation Department during the 1970s, she played a role in a wide array of new undertakings, ranging from establishing UMTA's affirmative action program to deciding, as she put it, that "women should go to sea in the Coast Guard."