Metro's regulations governing bicycles on subway cars are inflexible, discourage potential fares, fail to promote tourism and offer little in energy conservation alternatives.

Bicycles are allowed on Metrorail after 7 p.m. weekdays, all day Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, except the Fourth of July. No provisions are made for early-morning or reverse commuters, temporary permits or registration by mail. Permits are issued in person at 600 5th St. NW only two times a week during working hours (two additional times per month are added during summer). Obtaining a permit requires completion of a test at the 5th Street address and the payment of $15 for a five-year permit.

If you have recently purchased a bicycle, if you are a tourist, if you have rented or borrowed a bicycle or if you cannot appear in person for a permit, you cannot take a bicycle on the subway. Clearly, existing regulations stymie use of the Metro subway system by individuals with bicycles and restrict expanded use of Metrorail. These prohibitions contrast sharply with bicycle policies enforced in the BART system of San Francisco. Policies governing that system are much more compliant with the needs of its bicycle riders.

Every Metrorail station has a full-time Metro official responsible for passenger assistance. Could he or she not also issue temporary or permanent permits or at least provide mail-in applications? Libraries and bicycle shops also come to mind as possible registration sites. Why not expand Metro's ridership by encouraging residents and tourists to explore the capital area using a bicycle and Metrorail? At a time when we should be conserving energy, why not open the subway to early-morning and reverse-direction commuters. Encouragement of these and other integrated uses appears essential to realize the full potential of Metro and to reduce congestion on the roads.

Maybe Metro's intention is not to discourage bicycles on subway cars, maybe its policy is merely the result of inattention. Perhaps Metro officials prefer comparisons to the New York subway's absolute prohibition of bicycles rather than San Francisco's more imaginative approach. Nevertheless, Metro's policy toward bicyclists needs to be modified if Metro wants to be considered innovative and responsive to the transportation needs of its customers.

-- Dano Cosenza Murphy