By Terry White, King County Metro Deputy General Manager
For all of us at Metro, our No. 1 priority is the safety of our employees, customers, and community members. Nothing is more important than your well-being.
This week, you may hear about or see local TV news coverage drawing attention to incidents that have occurred on our system. There will be video and images that are difficult to watch. These reports and recordings were released through public records requests, drawing on data that covers a 10-year period, which represents more than 1 billion total rides.
When a TV reporter contacted Metro for comment, I shared with them how sincerely we take our mission to move—and to serve—our community and to improve safety. We provide 400,000 bus rides every weekday, deliver 48 million miles of service each year, and are committed to getting our customers where they need to go—safely, equitably, and sustainably. I’m also incredibly proud of our 5,200 employees—including our 3,100 bus operators—who keep our county moving night and day, rain or snow.
We’re also dedicated to getting better in all areas—including safety. Although even one incident is one too many, incidents do occur—some of them causing harm or injury. We take each of them seriously, and we’re continuously improving our incident response and prevention to keep all of us safe.
We’ve added cameras to 91 percent of buses—and as the last old buses retire, new buses equipped with cameras will round out the rest of the fleet to help us reach 100 percent.
We’ve increased security and partnered with law enforcement—including adding six new Metro Transit Police positions since 2018 and we’re hiring a crime analyst to help guide our efforts.
The effectiveness of our work to reduce assaults on bus operators is evident both in the decrease in the number of assaults per mile traveled and in our Transit Operator Assault Program earning a national Bus Safety & Security Excellence Award.
We work with riders in developing and implementing campaigns including “All Are Welcome” and “Report it to Stop It” to empower operators and passengers to help ensure our buses are both safe and welcoming.
We review and update policies to protect bus operators—such as taking steps to avoid conflict at the fare box and allowing them to have personal cellphones stowed and turned on in the event of an emergency.
We have also conducted two pilots involving driver screens and are continuing to talk to bus operators, passengers, and safety experts to determine if and how to proceed. We seek to achieve the right balance between protecting our operators and maintaining the connection with our riders that they have come to rely on, trust, and value as part of our relationship with them.
Even before I joined Metro 32 years ago, I grew up riding our service. Bus operators helped raise me and got me where I needed to be to land the opportunities I have had in life. They’re why I decided when I was 10 years old that I wanted to work for King County Metro.
We take all incidents seriously and strive each day to improve. We also can’t forget the hundreds of thousands of trips that take place without a hitch and in some cases save people’s lives.
Overwhelmingly, I hear the thank you’s as our passengers get off the bus each day, the people who seek safety and find it on board our buses, and the passengers and operators who pay attention every day to each other’s safety.
Our mission drives me and all of us at Metro—and I know on the issue of safety we are moving forward together.