The Clinton administration said yesterday that it won't help Metro pay the $1 million cost of moving around record numbers of revelers on buses and trains this New Year's Eve.

As a result, Metro directors said they will end a four-year practice of providing free rides after midnight on New Year's Eve. They also decided to delay the start of transit service on Dec. 31 from 5:30 a.m. until 8 a.m. Those changes will whittle down the cost of New Year's Eve service from $1 million to about $700,000, Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann said.

Metro officials had argued that the White House should help pay for the service, because it is sponsoring the festivities on the Mall that will generate overwhelming crowds.

The transit system expects as many as 750,000 passenger trips, more than twice the number Metro had last Dec. 31. Trains will run until 3 a.m. and buses until 4 a.m., and Metro will deploy nearly every piece of equipment and most of its work force to deliver what is basically rush-hour service through the night.

Jacob Lew, director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, rejected Metro's request for funding, saying there is no precedent for using federal dollars for such a purpose.

In a letter that arrived as Metro directors discussed the issue at a board meeting yesterday, Lew noted that Metro provides beefed-up service for annual celebrations such as the Fourth of July and occasions such as the 50th anniversary of NATO--and that it has always done so without special federal money.

Some Metro officials seized on the OMB decision as an example of federal arrogance. "The federal government repeatedly plans events that are imposed on us without impunity," said D.C. Council member David Catania (R-At Large), a member of the Metro board. "This happens on a daily basis."

Metro has provided free rides after midnight to New Year's Eve revelers since 1995 to cut down on drunken driving.

David Kelly, president of the Northern Virginia chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, blamed the federal government for Metro's decision to charge fares this year. "It's unfortunate that Metro's hand was forced like this," Kelly said. "It's extremely short-sighted on the part of the federal government."

About 250,000 merrymakers are expected at the Lincoln Memorial from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on New Year's Eve for a nationally televised show.

The Lincoln Memorial is not near Metro stations, so Metro will run free shuttle buses between the Lincoln Memorial and its Pentagon, Rosslyn, Farragut West and Waterfront stations. Metro workers will be in stations, reminding passengers to load up their Farecards on the way to the Mall to avoid long lines on the return trip, Feldmann said.

Daytime ridership also will be heavier than normal for New Year's Eve, Metro officials said. Although Dec. 31 is a holiday, many federal workers will be at their desks because of Y2K concerns.

The federal government's rejection of Metro's funding request sparked a sharp response from the regional congressional delegation. The entire delegation will sign a letter to Lew, urging him to reconsider, said Carter Cornick, a spokesman for Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.).

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said the delegation seeks a one-time grant. "We pay our way in the region, and the federal government should pay its way," she said. "We're not asking for a handout from the federal government. We want one-time assistance to help pay for the federal government's party."

CAPTION: Metro expects 750,000 passenger trips this New Year's Eve--more than double the ridership last Dec. 31.