When enterprises give awards to employes for cost-saving ideas dropped into the suggestion boxes, it often reflects a nickel-and-dime level of saving. Not, of course, that saving a nickel isn't important to a marginal operation.

Metro, our $400 million-a-year transit authority, recently honored two employes who came up with a suggestion that is expected to save $365,709 a year in subway car maintenance expenses. Beside the honor of recognition, James L. Ventura of Arlington and Richard Wagner of Forestville each earned a $1,000 cash award, Metro's maximum.

Metro had under consideration an outside manufacturer's proposal for 40 safety test units that would have cost $9,750 each and which, officials said, would have included some outmoded technology. Ventura and Wagner, who are electronic technicians, designed alternative units that could be built by Metro's employes at a cost of less than $200 each.

Other awards, made in the same ceremony: The general manager's award for meritorious achievement to Lemuel M. Proctor of Mitchellville, Md., acting general superintendent of rail car maintenance and a key figure in the opening of the Red Line to Shady Grove.

The general manager's award for valor to Arthur Jordan of Washington, who rescued an elderly woman he saw walking into the subway tunnel near the Eastern Market station. He called central control, got the electric third rail turned off and led the woman to safety. She apparently had become disoriented.

Other $1,000 cost-saving awards to maintenance personnel: Frederick P. Sones of Temple Hills, rail car maintenance mechanic; William J. McGill of Fairfax, rail start-up operator; Willie R. Sallie of Washington, electrical technician in rail car maintenance, and Irving W. Haywood of Lanham, bus mechanic. Smaller awards went to Michael M. Starkey of Lanham, rail systems maintenance locksmith (a three-time winner), and Richard Boyd of Alexandria, plumber in facilities maintenance.