Dwight K. French lives in the White Oak section of Silver Spring. Every weekday morning, he leaves his home, walks a quarter of a mile to a bus stop, boards a Z1, Z2 or Z3 bus, rides it to the Silver Spring Metro station, boards a Red Line train, transfers at Metro Center, rides a Blue or Orange Line train to Smithsonian and walks one block to his office at the Department of Energy. At night, he reverses the process.

Dwight has made his daily round trip by public transportation ever since Metrorail was extended to Silver Spring in 1980. He always suspected that his buses and trains were on schedule virtually 100 percent of the time. But one morning in late 1989, while he was dead-stopped for two hours inside a Colesville Road bus by a broken water main, Dwight decided to conduct an experiment.

Throughout 1990, he kept a diary of his commutes. He timed every bus and every rail trip. Then, 17 days ago, Dwight sat down with a calculator and figured up the results. They will bring large smiles to the faces down at Metro headquarters.

Dwight French found that he was on time to work 89 percent of the time during 1990, and on time getting home 94 percent of the time. When Dwight subtracted trips where he was late for reasons beyond Metro's control, he got where he was going right on schedule nearly 96 percent of the time.

And even when Dwight was late, he wasn't very late. The "standard deviation" for commutes during which he was late was only 2.8 minutes heading toward town and 2.4 minutes heading back to Silver Spring. Dwight was never late by more than 20 minutes for any reason during the entire year. As he puts it, "this is a pretty impressive performance."

I'd go one notch further. I'd say it's an unbeatable performance.

True, Dwight's numbers reflect only one man's experience. And true, 1990 was an unusually snow-free year hereabouts. But the basic thrust of Dwight French's research can't be nitpicked. Our transit system works, brilliantly.

Interestingly, Dwight found that the extension of the Red Line to Wheaton on Sept. 24 affected his trip times hardly at all. He also found that his bus trips taken as a whole were on time 94 percent of the time, while his rail trips taken as a whole were on time 97 percent of the time. So much for those bus-shy Washingtonians who think that only a zillion-dollar vehicle with its own tracks can get you where you're going in less than a week.

Dwight's bottom line: "Mass transit systems are like umpires . . . . The more unnoticed they are, the better they are doing their job." Obviously, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is one heck of an umpire.

Great Moments in Computer Software:

Ellen Aaron, of Arlington, was surprised, then amused, to read The Washington Post's TV movie listings last Nov. 3. A film called "Murder in Coweta County" was scheduled to air on Channel 20 at 1 p.m. But in our listings, the film was billed as "Murder in Co26 County."

Ellen figured out the reason: Someone had precoded a computer to type out "26" whenever the letters W, E, T and A appeared in sequence. The reason, of course, is that Channel 26 carries the call letters WETA.

Once I stopped giggling, I consulted the troops who edit our Sunday TV booklet. They said The Post obtains its TV movie listings from a service in Glens Falls, N.Y. Our computers can't automatically turn "WETA" into "26," so it must have been the New York company's software that produced the error.

Of course, the editors do admit that they should have caught it. But not even Yogi Berra caught everything.


The end of the road is at hand. But there is still time to help us with our last-minute sprint.

Our annual fund-raising drive on behalf of Children's Hospital ends tomorrow. Whether we break a record or not, it has been a fabulous show of generosity, as usual. You readers have shown for the 42nd consecutive year that when it comes time to help out the less fortunate children in our community, you'll do it, happily.

However, there may still be some procrastinators lurking out there. To any who fit that description, a final elbow in the ribs. Then, for the last time in 1990-91, that familiar bold-face box that tells you how to respond:


Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.