It was touted as the transportation system of the future and it served as a model for Washington Metro subway and other systems still being planned.

This week for the first time in the five-year history of the ill-fated $1.6 billion Bay Area Rapid Transit system, the officials who run it painfully have acknowledged that its service is terrible and that it will be years, if ever, before BART provides reliable transportation.

"You can put any adjective you want on it from "lousy" to "poor," said assistant general manager Robert Gallaway, "but it's still bad."

By his own standards, said general manager Frank Herringer, service probably will never be satisfactory. Amending his statement later, he said service will never be as good as that provided by New York's subway system nor "as good as it could have been," but that "satisfactory" is a relative word. BART will be acceptable."

An the officials added, about the thing they can do about it is spend $55 million, mostly in federal funds to support the sagging system over the next five years.

"We have (more than) a hundred problem," said Gallaway. "Each one causes two to three percent of our difficulties . . . It takes a long time to crawl through it all."

Herringer, who has had his job for 2 1&2 years, blames "the people who designed and build the system: not just the contractors (whom BART successfully sued for breach of contract for $30 million, but the people at BART . . . who made the design choices."

Specifically, Gallaway pointed to the "antiquated computer" and "the poorly designed car." Rohr. the comppany that built Washington's Metro cars, designed the cars for BART.

For the sweaty, frustated commuters, squished in stuffy, slow, stealling trains, suffering frequent one-to-two-hour delays on half-hour rides. BART's publ ic confession was something of a surprise. In the past BART officials have been relentlessly optimistic about the chances of solving, once and for all, the problems of the benighted system. Their new analysis however, was hardly regarded as novel. It matched what the users had been saying about the system all alone.

Problems for the system have been exacerbated recently be a two-month-old bus strike and drought-breaking rains. BART is forced to travel 25 percent slower during rain to permit it to brake safely. And the strike by bus drivers had added 25,500 East Bay riders to BART, meaning more cars and more breakdowns.

On an average day this month, 25 cars will break down. Assuming one broken car per nine-car train, 25 trains, or 225 cars out of 360 that start out operating every morning, will be pulled out of service at least temporarily during the day.

It is unclear whether these new, unflinching statistics played a role in breaking the pattern of Pollyannaish pronouncements BART officials had become famous for.

Sensitive to comparisons with the subway systems of New York, Paris, London and Tokyo, Gallaway said, "They relied on proven technology," whereas BART, he said, experimented with a computer system. He said he could find no justification for BART's reliance on modern technology and its early belief that nothing computerized would never fail.

"BART never will be as reliable as the older systems," said Herringer.

For now, Gallaway said East Bay riders, the ones hardest hit by BART difficulties, should add 45 minutes to a trip or double the scheduled travel time if they want to get to work on time. Even then, he added, some days they will be late.

Irritated East Bay commuters have their own recommendations. One suggests taking the "Rapid" out of BART and calling it BAT. Another says citizens should sue BART for its failure to deliver on its promises. A Berkeley man suggested chopping "the entire system into small pieces to be sold on Fisherman's Wharf to tourists to avert further fiscal disaster."

To those who suffer the daily commute, Gallaway said, somewhat sheepishly," I am sorry."