Metro said it plans to hire a Falls Church firm to run a “Mystery Shopper” program on its bus and rail systems starting in February.

On Thursday, Metro General Manager Richard Sarles briefed the board of directors at its last meeting of the year on plans to hire Synovate under a one-year, $252,000 contract — with two, one-year options — to run an undercover shopper program to analyze the agency’s performance and customer service.

Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman, said the effort is “as much as about getting insight from what we do well as it’s about improving where we’re not.”

“We want everyone to provide service on the level of the best among us,” Stessel added.

Metro receives thousands of complaints each year from riders. About 1,100 of the complaints Metro receives are about rude, discourteous and uncooperative staff; an additional 1,969 are about elevator/escalator outages; and 752 are about air conditioning and heating on rail cars.

At Thursday’s meeting, Sarles told the board that since Congress has not extended the pre-tax benefits for transit, the rail system’s technology requires that SmarTrip cards be programmed with the lower, $125-a-month limit to prepare for next year.

Commuters can set aside as much as $230 a month in pretax income for transit use, but that amount is set to fall to $125 a month when a temporary increase expires. Under Internal Revenue Service rules, pretax parking benefits would rise from $230 a month to $240 a month because of inflation.

Metro and public transportation advocacy groups have said the pretax transit benefits keep more riders on buses and trains and out of cars.

Follow me on Twitter @postmetrogirl.