As we announced on July 17, Metro recently had to lay off 200 part-time bus operators due to reductions in our service, and their last day is Aug. 7. It’s the unfortunate result of our difficult budget realities, is in no way a reflection of their value to the community, and we greatly appreciate their public service. Two positive developments announced today include support for laid-off drivers in their career search and a suspension of further layoffs.

Due to the high number of applications Metro received for King County’s Voluntary Separation Program (VSP), Metro is suspending any further rounds of layoffs of transit operators beyond those already announced.

Many Metro employees responded to our call to consider retiring and applied for VSP. While approvals are not guaranteed, Metro is working to accept as many applicants who qualify for the program as we can. Those who applied will hear back regarding the status of their application by mid-August.

Also, a new program announced by the Department of Community and Health Services will employ some of our laid-off transit operators as part-time King County Health Ambassadors. From the DCHS Cultivating Connections blog:

The first ambassador cohort begins on Monday, August 10, 2020 – with 16 ambassadors already signed up and more opportunities available to additional Metro bus drivers facing layoffs and others who volunteer for the program.

Ambassador training will focus on the basics of the coronavirus, including signs and symptoms, how to access free testing, social distancing, hand hygiene and proper use of face coverings, the importance of quarantine and isolation following exposure to COVID, the disproportionate impacts of COVID on communities of color, and tips and tools for supporting communities in a time of uncertainty and fear.

King County Health Ambassadors are not enforcement officials. Instead, they will contribute to a re-doubled countywide effort to slow the spread of COVID and preserve hospital capacity. Following their training, Ambassadors will be available with information and supplies beginning the week of August 17 at Metro high ridership stops and Transit Centers in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID, including the Burien, Tukwila, Federal Way and Aurora Transit Centers and the Kent Station, and at several higher ridership stops in downtown Seattle.

Ambassadors will host community mask giveaways, including events currently being scheduled at several sites in King County. More information on times and locations will be available soon.

In addition to the ambassador program, we are exploring other employment opportunities for these laid-off employees and have paired each of them with an outplacement coach within Metro to help with their career search. They are also eligible to participate in the County’s preferred placement program, which can help give them priority for new jobs posted at King County.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our service and ridership levels greatly, and our upcoming September service change will be about 85% of pre-COVID levels while our bus ridership still remains down about 62%.

The service we continue to provide today and going forward serves riders who need public transportation to travel during the pandemic, for work or necessities. The network we operate to serve those riders underscores our commitment to providing service within available and constrained resources. We take our role serving the community seriously and value the ongoing contributions of our drivers and frontline employees, and the trust that riders put in Metro.