TODAY'S SPECIAL TIP of the Flash Pass goes to Congressional Quarterly, the news research organization, which has decided to put its money where its Metro is -- with bus-and-subway-fare subsidies for its employees starting Jan. 2. Judging from the first wave of reaction around town, a number of other companies are interested in perhaps following CQ's lead, including Riggs National Bank, Garfinckel's and Perpetual Federal Savings and Loan. The idea is not new. More than 100 large firms in other cities already are paying part or all of their employees' transit fares. But it has yet to catch on here.
Though it's a fine way for businesses to join in encouraging gasoline conservation, support for mass transit and reductions in air pollution, there are a few factors that account for the less-than-booming response in the Washington area. For one thing, it is difficult to pin down the number of people using cars who might leave them at home and ride Metro in exchange for a slight fare discount. Though the current fare schedule is ridiculously complex, the fares themselves are by and large pretty reasonable.
The most effective attraction to public transportation is the most obvious but elusive one: convenient, dependable and swift service. The war stories of Metro riders are legion -- be it mass confusion now that Blue and Orange subways hide their identities as they barrel down the same tracks bound for different destinations, or tales of buses that never came. Just Friday morning, more than 100 subway customers shivered on the National Airport platform for a good 20 minutes -- staring at an idling train with a handful of passengers inside its closed doors, only to watch it finally pull out without them.
There are lots of home-to-work runs around the region that simply do not yet lend themselves to public transportation. When the 100-mile subway system is built -- and when the bus routes dating back to the 1940s are truly revised to reflect todayhs commuting patterns -- many employees may be eager to abandon cars. In the meantime, the other efforts -- away from parking subsidies and toward help for transit riders, along with promotion of, and parking for, car and van pools -- are all constructive ways for business to pitch in and do their part.