Metro Reports Upswing in Bus Riders

Four months after Metro simplified its byzantine bus-fare system and eliminated transfer fees, daily ridership has jumped by more than 60,000 trips, or about 13 percent, Metro officials said.

On some weekdays, total daily bus ridership is nearing the number of riders on the subway system--a significant indicator, officials said. "To get that close to the rail level means people have a lot of confidence in our bus system," said Gladys Mack, a D.C. representative on the Metro board of directors. On some days, daily bus ridership is exceeding 500,000 trips, while the daily subway ridership is now hovering around 570,000 passenger trips, officials said.

"Everybody is getting something out of it," Metro General Manager Richard A. White said. "Bus ridership is increasing in every jurisdiction--Maryland, Virginia and the District."

In June, Metro restructured its bus-fare system, eliminating transfer fees and ending a confusing system of fares based on seven different bus zones and surcharges whenever a passenger crossed state lines. Instead, bus riders now pay a flat fee. It is $1.10 on most routes and $2 on 22 express routes that connect points outside the Beltway with downtown Washington or the Pentagon.

The fare restructuring is costing Metro about $10 million a year in lost revenue, but agency officials say it's worth it to increase bus ridership.

Weekday bus ridership had already been on the increase, up about 6 percent since 1997.

But the increase has nearly doubled since fare simplification, said Thomas A. Donahue, Metro's associate director of business planning and development. Last month, weekday bus ridership increased by 12.6 percent, compared with that of September 1998, Donahue said. About 25 percent of that increase comes from new riders, while the remainder is existing bus riders now taking more than one bus, he said.

The only area where bus ridership is declining is among senior citizens and disabled passengers. Compared with last year, daily ridership in those categories is down almost 20 percent. Metro officials said elderly and disabled riders are switching from the Metrobus system to transit vans that Metro runs.

Md. Prison Escapee Fights Extradition

A Maryland prison escapee captured in the District three weeks ago is fighting the state's attempts to reclaim him as a prisoner.

Raymond Eric Dodd, 24, will have a hearing Dec. 8 in D.C. Superior Court on his challenge to Maryland's routine request to have him extradited from the D.C. jail, where he is being held, to the Supermax Prison in Baltimore. Dodd slipped out of a Hagerstown prison on July 12 and remained on the loose for four months. It was the longest an escapee from a Maryland prison had remained free in close to a decade.

Dodd was in the fourth year of a 16-year sentence for armed robbery when he escaped, and the escape itself could add up to 10 years of prison time. After he serves his time in Maryland, he faces a term in the District of 10 years to life for manslaughter.

The extradition hearing will focus narrowly on Dodd's identity.

"The only grounds for challenging it is if they got the wrong guy," said Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office.

How Dodd escaped remains a mystery. Corrections officials said they are eager to get Dodd into custody to question him. The day after he disappeared they assumed he had escaped in a prison trash truck and was killed in the process. State police investigators dug up parts of a landfill in search of his corpse.

They soon realized he was alive but could develop no other theories on the escape. In September, investigators came close to catching him several times, they said. He was finally found at a house in the 4300 block of Fourth Street SE, where he surrendered without resistance.

Polling Firm Break-Ins Unsolved

Nine months have passed, and the mystery remains: Who broke into a Capitol Hill polling firm that did work in a recent Israeli election?

"I would love to find out what happened. It certainly disrupted our lives for a while," said Jeremy Rosner, vice president of the polling firm, Greenberg Quinlan Research Inc.

At the time, the firm was doing work for Ehud Barak, who was running for prime minister of Israel. In January, Rosner said, burglars twice slipped passed the alarm system at 515 Second St. NE and tampered with international files, including Barak's.

"While the elections were on we took a lot of steps to make sure our employees' work for clients was secure," he said, declining to elaborate. Since the elections, he said, "all our problems have gone away."

Barak proved triumphant. The same can't be said for the police.

"The case remains unsolved to date," said Sgt. James Manning, a D.C. police detective.