In a four-part series, "Off the Rails" [front page, June 5-8], The Post detailed financial and management issues that have challenged Metro for years. For area businesses and residents, the series raised two fundamental questions:

Should residents of this region expect the highest level of accountability from Metro for the fares and taxes they pay?

Answer: Absolutely.

And can this region afford to hold back on securing dedicated funding to meet Metro's current and future needs?

Answer: Absolutely not.

While Metro has experienced problems, on balance, it has spent its riders' and the taxpayers' dollars wisely. It has an excellent record of completing rail construction projects on time and on or under budget. Because of recent changes, the dependability of its buses and trains has improved markedly, and a series of customer-friendly initiatives is improving the transit experience for riders.

Metro also has sought to generate revenue from sources other than fares and government subsidies, earning more than $800 million in the past eight years from advertising, joint development, the leasing of fiber-optic rights of way and other innovative financing strategies. Metro's budget is reviewed annually by Maryland, the District and Virginia.

But as Metro is put under the microscope, we must not lose sight of its being the single most important element in the regional transportation network -- one that must be funded at a level commensurate with the critical role it plays.

Metro carries nearly 700,000 weekday riders and accounts for nearly 20 percent of all rush-hour trips, including more than 40 percent of trips downtown. The region depends on Metro not only today but to provide mobility for the 2 million new residents forecast for the region over the next 25 years.

Even as Metro works on implementing reforms to address problems highlighted by The Post, chronic underinvestment in the system poses a threat to the region's mobility, job growth, air quality and quality of life. Metro, by any measure, has been a spectacular success. But that success has created problems, including overcrowding and wear and tear on equipment in the system, much of which is more than 20 years old.

Capital spending is inadequate to maintain the Metro system. Many of us remember what happened in New York in the 1980s, when capital spending for its transit system was insufficient. Service deteriorated, and the system came to be viewed as unsafe. That can't be allowed to happen to Metro.

To maintain a first-class transit system and accommodate growth, Metro needs the long-term dedicated funds identified by the Metro Funding Panel Report in January. This region, its elected leaders and the federal government need to reach a consensus on a dedicated source of revenue to provide Metro with more rail cars and buses to enable it to maintain the world-class system that the region expects and deserves.

With our regional partners, we pledge to do our part to ensure a bright future for Metro.

-- William H. Edwards Jr.

-- Terence C. Golden

are, respectively, chairman of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and chairman of the Federal City Council.