You might see “‘blue jackets” at transit centers, outside schools or on your way to a game at Lumen Field or T-Mobile Park. The people wearing the jackets are Metro Ambassadors and they are there to answer your questions, point you in the right direction and may even have some swag for you.
“I see this as a way to get comfort back,” said ambassador Royce Williams. “To make people comfortable about riding the bus again.”
The ambassadors are part of a pilot program supporting customers and transit operators. Working at Metro Transit Centers and neighborhood bus stops, the ambassadors offer in-person customer service. Interacting with both the public and bus operators, they provide a friendly face and knowledge of the system.
Skeptical at first, ambassador Abdiwahab Adan quickly saw “how much help we can provide to the people out there. They’re happy to see us.”
The current ambassadors are transit operators on a temporary duty assignment. They said it provides an opportunity to interact with riders more than they would when they are driving a bus and must focus on driving.
“There are definitely less distractions,” said ambassador Dominique Blanchard. “We’re able to focus our attention on that customer at that time.”
“It’s great to be able to talk to people,” said Williams.
The ambassadors carry cards with information that include the Metro website and how riders can apply for an ORCA Card or the ORCA LIFT program. With their experience behind the wheel, ambassadors are also able to supply people with assurance as well as information.
“A woman approached me and told me she had come from Tacoma for an appointment but wasn’t sure where to go to catch her bus home,” said Adan. “I spoke to her in Swahili and was able to direct her to the stop. She was so appreciative, telling me ‘I knew I couldn’t walk up to just anyone.’”
In other situations where people needing assistance do not speak English, the ambassadors use an interpretation service to help answer questions.
Even though the program is a few months old, the ambassadors are already being recognized as people you can reach out to—after a little hesitation.
“In the beginning, we let people come to us, but we had a problem because they didn’t know what we were doing out there,” said Adan. “I think engaging with the people at 5th and Jackson helped. Now people approach us.”
“Some people want to know what we’re doing,” Williams said. “They’re trying to scope us out and see if maybe we’re fare enforcement, which we’re not. Once they understand why we’re there, they have questions about getting around and using transit.”
The majority of questions the ambassadors receive involve when buses arrive, which has provided them with the opportunity to provide information on Text for Departures. They’ve also spoken to tourists trying to find their hotels and asking how to pay to ride transit. “Do buses take credit cards?” is a frequent query. The answer is not directly, but you can through the Transit GO Ticket app.
Ambassador Breaumond Rhodes would like to see the program expand and potentially become a regular option for those drivers interested. “Getting us out in the public is great for riders and drivers,” said Rhodes. “And we’re the trailblazers!”
“We need more ambassadors than what we have right now,” said Blanchard. “There’s only so many places we can get to in King County.”
The ambassador pilot program is part of Metro’s Safety, Security, and Fare Enforcement (SaFE) Reform Initiative. The initiative is a collaborative effort involving the community and Metro employees to create a transit experience where everyone feels safe and welcome.