Metro board members voted yesterday to create a riders advisory council. If approved by the full board of directors Thursday, the 21-member council could begin offering riders' perspectives on Metro's policies, services and budget decisions by early next year.

"We now have the challenge of identifying really good people" to sit on the council, said Jim Graham, a Metro board member who represents the District. He said the board will actively recruit "the best people to fill these seats to ensure the success of this."

Board members also got a look yesterday at preliminary budget projections for the next fiscal year, which included a spending gap of at least $10 million, depending on fuel costs and other variables. Any shortfall would have to be covered, possibly by higher fares, higher subsidies from local governments or cuts in services.

The riders advisory council will include six members each from Maryland, Virginia and the District and two at-large members, and it will have one seat for the head of Metro's Elderly and Disabled Transportation Advisory Committee.

Board members will appoint riders who rely on a cross section of transit, including Metrorail, Metrobus and MetroAccess, the curb-to-curb service for disabled people. They will also seek a mix of people who depend on public transit at different times of the day and for different purposes, said Debra Johnson, director of the office of project communications.

Applications can be found in rail stations or buses and on the seats of MetroAccess vehicles starting Sept. 26. Applications can also be requested by calling 202-962-1034 or by searching online at www.metroopensdoors.com.

The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Oct. 17, and the board of directors will make the appointments at its Dec. 15 meeting.

Johnson said the riders advisory council is part of a wider effort to put a face on Metro by penetrating what many have criticized as a vast bureaucracy. Other efforts include a series of town hall-style meetings, which started in November, where riders can voice their concerns. In April, Metro initiated a public comment period before each Metro board meeting.

Metro board Chairman T. Dana Kauffman of Fairfax County said public comment has helped shape the structure of the council. He said that once the council is in place, he hopes to see feedback from riders about a number of issues.

But Jack Corbett, a founder of Metroriders.org, said he is concerned about how much influence the council could have on the agency's annual budget.

"The kind of ability to review a billion-dollar budget for a 10,000-person agency is not what a normal rider has experience doing," he said.

Yesterday, Metro's budget committee got an early glimpse of what the next budget year holds. The 2007 fiscal budget, which would take effect in July, is expected to be $1.09 billion, a 7 percent increase from the current year's spending plan.

The figures, including the projected shortfall, are preliminary, officials said, and could change because of a number of variables, including changes in ridership or the fluctuating cost of fuel, which was estimated in the budget at $1.50 a gallon, a dollar below what Metro is paying.

The budget committee members agreed in a nonbinding vote to advise the agency's staff members that fares should not increase as a way to meet the shortfall and that subsidies borne by local jurisdictions should not increase by more than 5.9 percent -- a number derived in part by a regional panel's recommendation.

Jim Graham represents the District on the Metro board.