SOMEWHERE IN A little known and similarly loved cranny of Greater Washington there is probably a huge Metrobus barn filled with disoriented passengers who once thought they knew where they were going -- or else never did and are now just praying for deliverance or a free transfer. They never found out what only a handful of Washington natives were told by ancestors shortly before World War II: that bus routes, fares and schedules are military secrets. Certain bus drivers are entrusted with maps and other data -- and then only if they take an oath not to leak a thing to anyone who might crack the code and move cross-town in a day.
But now there are some heretical Metrominds who are offcially recommending widespread changes in the bus system that could doom the time-honored mystery missions to "Georgia and Alaska via Military" or "Trinidad Without Tobago/Weekdays Only." Transit planners are suggesting a serious overhauling of Metro's outmoded network of bus routes; revised schedules aimed at letting passengers transfer more easily from one bus to another; and the use of smaller buses, taxis and vans to cut costs in areas where few riders board.
Who's behind this radical upgrading? Metro general manager Carmen Turner seems to be on a relentless campaign to undercut all the old surefire ways to confuse the public. She is known to believe that bus service should be related to where people want to go. This radical idea has led to the first official look in a generation at route realignments that would reflect shifts in travel patterns by commuters and other residents. The old routes, for example, are designed chiefly around trips to and from the downtown area. Today, commuing has increased sharply within and between suburban jurisdictions.
In addition, local governments have been setting up separate bus systems, partly to fill gaps in Metro service; some of this may still be more efficient and less expensive under Metro. Either way, Metro is on the right path, so to speak, in trying to establish an understandable route system that goes where the people go.