SEATTLE — The union representing King County Metro transit operators is reacting to ongoing concerns over safety inside Metro buses.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 President Ken Price posted a bulletin addressed to union members Friday, to express that the union is aware of the concerns over "non-destinational riders" that engage in illegal activity.
"Dow Constantine and Metro Management continue to disregard the safety of our buses. Instead of protecting their employees, King County continues to show they have no problem running over your right to a safe workplace," the memo said.
Price said ATU 587 represents approximately 3,200 transit operators in King County and many of them have deplored the increasing drug use among riders who get on without paying.
"It's all kinds of drugs being lit up on the bus. Lighting up on the bus is becoming a problem from bus zones, to bus zones, and there's nothing we can do about it," Price said.
Data provided by King County Metro shows a sharp rise in illicit drug use that was formally reported by transit operators, with 44 reported in 2019, 73 reported in 2020, and 398 reported in 2021.
Steve Boots said he switched jobs from a bus driver to a different position within Metro, due to an incident in 2018 that involved a woman armed with a knife.
"She unwrapped a bundle, she had a butcher knife in it, she came after me," Boots said.
Boots said he's heard from colleagues who say safety issues on buses have worsened in recent years.
"They're really in a difficult, no-win situation because there's been such an upsurge in drugs like fentanyl," Boots said.
Price pointed to specific stops in and around downtown Seattle where the drug use is particularly bad, including 12th and Jackson in the International District, and 3rd and Pike and Pine, where several Metro buses stop.
"You pull up to the bus shelter, it's taken over by criminal element, and our passengers are not even able to stand in that zone," Price said.
KING 5 asked King County Executive Dow Constantine's office whether they've received the memo.
A King County Metro spokesperson responded with a statement, saying the county did not receive the bulletin directly from ATU and that Metro's top priority is employee and customer safety.
The statement added:
"This summer, in response to increased concerns onboard coaches, Metro increased security personnel, specifically focusing on routes with higher reports of incidents. This effort included hiring more than 50 additional Transit Security Officers to provide 24/7 visibility and support across a broader range of routes. Since then, we continue to monitor and adjust security deployment where the need is greatest for both our operators and riders.
While our transit operators face challenges, the best path forward comes from working together. That's why Metro has been a consistent and strong labor partner and advocate. Unfortunately, ATU 587 President Ken Price has refused to meaningfully work with Metro and his recent bulletin is false and inflammatory. Most alarming are his despicable and crude characterizations of our neighbors experiencing homelessness, especially during a housing crisis. Metro believes mobility is a human right and our operators show every day their dedication to our entire community. We're very appreciative of our operators and the essential service they provide. As our transit system recovers and expands, we look forward to ATU 587 returning to the table and amplifying the crucial voices of our transit employees."
Price said he hopes to see the additional security and safer conditions for drivers, passengers, and assistance for the people who cause the problems.
"They all need help. We need to give the resources too," Price said.