A PENNY, or even its equivalent in tokens, would be overpayment for the latest thought from some dollar-conscious board members at Metro: they're considering banning the use of dollar bills by bus riders. The idea is to save an estimated $180,000 they say it costs to unfold, count and guard all the paper money -- and so what if that means every paper-pushing customer gets in a wad at the farebox.

Like the Susan B. Anthony dollar, this is a clinker -- and Metro should drop it. In Virginia, where the zone fares already have pushed many fares beyond the $1 mark, regular commuters are rightly wroght up over the prospect of weight-lifting all the coin necessary for their daily rounds -- assuming they can come up with enough before boarding time. Besides, just how big a deal is $180,000 in the megabuck math of Metro, where you give them a million and they make a mile? That isn't such a terribly fat payroll for unrumplers, stackers and coffer-tenders anyway.

There's no question that the people who sponsor the buses -- which is everybody -- support an effort to cut costs. And to their credit, the officials with the dollar-ban plan have come up with a total of nearly $9 million in proposed spending cuts for the next fiscal year; these include the use of a lower-grade fuel, a freeze on hiring of administrators, restrictions on overtime pay and a limit on the money for cost-of-living pay increases, the latest of which came out to an annual rate of 18 percent for members of the main union at Metro. But in cutting costs, there are certain factors that should be considered -- chief among them being the passengers.