SUDDENLY the masterminds of Metro have noticed that more than a few of their once-faithful customers have been falling off the transit wagon and resuming their car habits. That is too bad, but not too surprising -- as any battered bus or subway rider knows only too well.

The flaw is rather fundamental: either Metro won't get you there from here anymore, or it can but won't tell you when or how. Never mind the poor, confused tourist over there who's been banging her fist on the Farecard machine for the last half-hour; consider the veterans who thought they had the semblance of a working knowledge of the system -- and who now are alighting at strange stops because bits of the old blue line on that map have turned orange and yes, vice versa.

The buses? Ha! It's easier to catch a cold -- because at least they come seasonally. The buses run according to schedules, and the schedules depend on the routes; the routes, of course, are subject to change at the drop of a token; and changes in routes affect the schedules, which either aren't published on schedule or don't get distributed anywhere.

It's a wonder the bus drivers know where to go. In fact only a few weeks ago, after a series of route and schedule changes, we sat behind one skipper who veered off course by a block and went four more blocks before re-entering the flight pattern. For the first five days of the revised route, neither he nor any of his colleagues could provide schedules for riders.

Then one morning, well into the second week of new routes without available timetables, we thought we'd found relief in the form of the Metro mobile office that parks at 16th and K streets two days a week. We stood in line until we could look into the window and actually see the missing schedule on the rack.

Could we please have one? "No," came the icy reply from the mobile-mistress, "Not on Flashpass Friday."

"Flashpass Friday" is not a college football holiday; it's when you can buy a new two-week pass -- assuming you know where you're going once you buy one. If by any chance you do, please go on ahead without us -- we're on hold, listening to a recorded message.