Metro Reports More Fare Scofflaws

The number of people sneaking into the Metro system without paying a fare has jumped, Metro Transit Police Chief Polly Hanson said yesterday. In the first four months of this year, Transit Police counted 861 fare evaders, compared with 573 during the same period last year.

Some of those fare evaders are using student and senior discount cards for which they don't qualify, while others are squeezing through the fare gates close behind paying riders, Hanson said.

A special police squad will be focusing on fare evaders, especially because fares are to increase Sunday, Hanson said. Violators can be fined as much as $100.

Fires Disrupt Blue, Orange Line Trains

Trains on Metro's Blue and Orange lines ran into lengthy delays during last evening's rush after two small fires erupted a few hundred feet apart in the tunnel between the Eastern Market and Potomac Avenue stations.

The first fire was discovered at 5:20 p.m. and was extinguished by maintenance workers. At 6 p.m., just as Metro was about to resume normal service, the second fire was spotted and was extinguished by a train operator. Normal service was restored at 6:30 p.m.


Bill Increasing Police, Fire Staffs Signed

Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday signed legislation to increase staffing on the city police force by authorizing the rehiring of retired homicide detectives and forcing injured officers who are on limited duty or extended sick leave to retire.

The initiative will require an extra $400,000 next year and about $15 million the next year to pay for an expected surge in the number of officers drawing benefits from the retirement system.

Under the new law, city police and firefighters will be forced to retire if they spend more than 172 days on extended sick leave or limited duty in any two-year period, according to Shannon Cockett, police human services director. Currently, 8 percent -- or 308 -- of the city's officers are not on full duty, Cockett said, down from a high of 11 percent last year.


U-Md. Backed on Public Speaking Limits

A federal judge has upheld the University of Maryland's policy of restricting public speaking and leafleting by outside groups to two specific areas of campus.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed last year by a local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that the restrictions violated students' rights to free expression.

But U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus in Greenbelt accepted the university's motion for summary judgment and closed the case last week, saying the campus restrictions are "meager" and do not discriminate on the basis of viewpoint.

University officials say outside groups are allowed to claim spots on two "highly trafficked" parts of campus -- an amphitheater and the sidewalk outside the student union -- if they register five days in advance. Groups sponsored by campus organizations have broader leeway.

Ride On Bus System Fares Rising Sunday

Montgomery County's Ride On bus system is raising its fares starting Sunday to keep pace with Metro, which also is asking riders to pay more. "Classically, we have adjusted our fares to be consistent with Metro," said Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), a County Council member active on transportation issues.

The Ride On base fare will rise a nickel to $1.25, a 4 percent increase. The 20-trip ticket will cost $18 instead of the current $13, a 38 percent rise. Ride On is also reducing the cost of its Ride About Two-Week pass from $12 to $10. "We're rewarding our regular customers," said Esther Bowring, a county spokeswoman.

Ride On will maintain its $15 summer rate for the Youth Cruiser pass, which is good through August. The fare for elderly and disabled riders will stay at 60 cents.


Governor Holds PAC Fundraiser Tonight

Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) will hold his first major fundraiser of the year tonight for his political action committee, OneVirginia.

The fundraiser, which PAC officials expect will garner $600,000 for Warner, will be held at the Kennedy Center. Attendees will watch opening night of the Broadway show "The Producers."

The event, which is expected to draw 350 people, is Warner's first major fundraiser since he raised a record $1 million last year at a Tysons Corner event.

7th Snakehead in Potomac Watershed

Another northern snakehead fish was caught in Little Hunting Creek near Mount Vernon on Wednesday, the seventh of the Asian species to be found this year in the Potomac River or its tributaries. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said the fish, a female, was 2 or 3 years old -- old enough to reproduce.

The fish was caught by a state employee who was using electric shocks to bring fish to the surface, said Gary Martel, director of fisheries.

Two other snakeheads have been caught in the creek this year, including a two-foot fish on June 17. Martel said yesterday that the fish has been found to be 6 years old, making it the oldest of the snakeheads caught in the Potomac watershed.

State officials are still waiting for the results of DNA testing to determine whether the snakeheads are related.

16 SW Va. Officials Accused of Fraud

Federal authorities said today that 16 officials in a remote coal community in southwestern Virginia allegedly accepted clothing, NASCAR tickets, a hunting dog and other gifts totaling more than $500,000 in exchange for directing flood disaster relief money to contractors. Six companies also were named in the 43-count indictment, which was returned yesterday.

The alleged fraud stems from federal and state disaster relief in 2002 after floodwater submerged portions of Hurley.

The county received about $7.6 million, which was used for cleanup and repairs. An investigator with the U.S. attorney's office alleges that the officials received bribes from companies in exchange for cleanup contracts.

The investigation was dubbed Operation the Big Coon Dog because one official is accused of accepting a hunting dog.

"It doesn't indicate whether it's $5 per month or $5 per member."

-- Alexandria resident George Huley on Metro's new electronic SmarTrip parking cards. -- Page B1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Amy Argetsinger, Cameron W. Barr, Chris L. Jenkins, Lyndsey Layton and Lori Montgomery and the Associated Press.