Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Russian Beauty; Russian Death | Rossi's Budget: $5 billion in ... »

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Metro Contract Goes Into Mediation

posted by on January 31 at 16:24 PM

Earlier this month, Metro union members narrowly rejected their contract with King County, sending the contract into a mediation process that will begin with a meeting next Monday. Although neither the union itself nor Metro management would comment about the negotiations (that’s standard; Metro general manager Kevin Desmond told me “we’re not going to negotiate this contract in the press”), King County and Metro employees said the substance of the contract dispute was not so much about money (although some union members were unhappy with the three percent cost of living pay increase) as it was about discipline—specifically, the procedure in the new contract for disciplining and firing drivers.

According to several drivers, the new contract would allow management to discipline drivers for an “accumulation” of complaints from customers, including anonymous complaints or complaints that are not sustained. One driver speculates that the new focus on complaints resulted from a fatal crash last year in Enumclaw. The bus driver, a 35-year-old woman named Sandra Olosky, ran head-on into a pickup, killing its driver; in the ten years leading up to the crash, passengers and motorists had filed 25 complaints about her reckless driving—not enough for Metro to discipline or fire her.

Everyone who rides the bus with any frequency knows that our bus system needs improvements. Everyone has stories about rude or scary drivers and rude, unsanitary, and drug-using passengers. The question is, what to do about it? Disciplining based on complaints, if that is indeed the current proposal, seems like a bad idea (what if I call to complain because a driver wouldn’t let me on for free?), but so does ignoring multiple complaints about serious infractions. Drivers say they want more security, including transit police escorts and cameras, and they’re probably on to something. On the other hand, security cameras and King County sheriff deputies cost money—and transit service needs to be beefed up, too. Ultimately, perhaps the solution should involve giving a little to everybody—more security, more attention paid to serious complaints, and more discretion to fire really bad drivers and overlook frivolous complaints from customers.

RSS icon Comments


Please, please, please don't let a strike happen.

Posted by vooodooo84 | January 31, 2008 4:35 PM

The bus driver has to let you on for free if you say you can't afford it. That's in the FTA's rules, and Metro accepts FTA funding.

If the bus driver refuses you, then a complaint should be filed.

Posted by Andrew | January 31, 2008 4:37 PM

Safety complaints should always be taken seriously. Sure, a pissed off rider might file a bogus safety complaint, but I don't see that negatively affecting an otherwise safe driver.

Posted by keshmeshi | January 31, 2008 5:48 PM

i'd be very impressed if enough fare evaders bothered to call in complaints to metro

Posted by kinkos | January 31, 2008 6:00 PM

I have a friend who drives the bus and has driven for Metro for a decade or two. He tells me he has devised a way to solve a lot of the communication and logistics issues they have, but the problem is that the system in place is so bureaucractically rigid that it simply WON'T be changed. They spent years devising a latticework of procedures to deal with matters while minimizing their liability, and they are very averse to messing with it at all. Suggestions are either paid no mind or lost in the great queue of bureaucracy.

They know there's a variety of service problems. And they simply will not do anything about it.

By the way, in light of a variety of service issues and in light of how drivers chose to handle the snow/ice on Monday... if they strike, they will not have my support, which is a shame because many drivers, including my friend, are decent people and decent drivers, but there are enough bad apples in the batch screwing things up that a bit of bureaucratic chemo is required to fix things.

And yeah, I'll walk 4.5 miles each way to/from work if it comes to that, until Metro gets replacement drivers on board though IIRC bus agencies usually have them trained and ready in time for the strike.

Posted by Gomez | January 31, 2008 6:30 PM

What Andrew says is partially right. Drivers are not supposed to stop you from riding if you refuse to pay. Sort of like if you if you steal something from Starbucks, employees are not supposed to physically stop you. In both cases, the person who is not paying is breaking the law. But there is no policy that say "bums ride for free." If you get on and don't pay, you're breaking the law, but drivers are not supposed to make a federal case out of it.

Posted by Jack Mehoff | January 31, 2008 8:06 PM

Transit drivers are prohibited by law from striking, just like airline pilots.

Posted by ECB | January 31, 2008 8:36 PM


Someone should have informed the New York transit employees that. They struck a couple of years ago.

Posted by keshmeshi | January 31, 2008 8:38 PM

Bus drivers (all transit workers, actually)in WA state cannot strike. They have binding interest arbitration, akin to what police and firefighters have.

There has been very little discipline for the horribly rude drivers- get the facts.

Posted by Ned | January 31, 2008 8:40 PM

Wrong. Many teachers in many states "cannot strike," but they do anyway. They do it, and just take whatever minor penalty that comes with it.

Posted by Jack Mehoff | January 31, 2008 9:04 PM

Yeah, NYC transit workers went on strike and their union leaders got sent to jail. Unlike refusing to pay your bus fare, public transit workers going on strike is taken seriously. Too bad, one day of the Puget Sound region having to deal with all the 'transit rider by-choice' commuters driving would probably get any transit package passed with a clear majority. Yeah- alot of riders don't have cars but alot of riders do, hence all of those packed park-and-ride lots all over the suburbs.
Regardless of some FTA law, Metro has a very permissive policy concerning fare evasion. Providing frequent and consistent enforcement would cost money, but the shear ammount of tickets officers could write would more than offset the cost. Plus more cops on the bus= more security.

Posted by Alli | January 31, 2008 9:26 PM

I wish they would get rid of the ridiculous Ride Free Zone. That would solve at least some of the problems we all regularly complain about. In the meantime, I've started walking between work and home... can no longer stand the overcrowded late buses (70 and 11, the only ones on my route), druggies, rude far evaders and slow rides (60 minutes by bus, 30 by foot).

Posted by rb | January 31, 2008 11:30 PM

We love to bitch about Metro but since I moved here in 1995 I have yet to see them ever get serious about holding the drivers accountable or to get rid of even the worse offending passengers or drivers yet.

You want to fix metro? Have Ron Sims fire the board that supervises Metro and their manager and bring in all new fresh blood into the system.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | February 1, 2008 4:35 AM

My favorite bad bus driver anecdote is the driver who won't let on smokers...if she thinks you've been smoking at the stop, she'll pass on by or if she does stop, she'll refuse to let the suspected smokers board. It happened to my brother who DOESN'T smoke, but he was standing near people who were. He reported her, but she's still around, of course. She kept referring to it being HER bus and my brother kept pointing out, it's OUR bus; EVERYONE'S taxes help pay for it.

Posted by michael strangeways | February 1, 2008 9:34 AM

I can confirm Metro does not care about what their drivers do. They only care about schedule. There really is no punishment for anything. And they really don't enforce anything. And when a driver does get called in because of a complaint, he either denies that it happened, or twists the events. Even if he is caught, and admits whatever it is that happened, nothing becomes of it. It's a slap on the wrist. The only thing Metro really cares about, and enforces by sending out supervisors to monitor, is not driving ahead of schedule. That is their main priority. They really don't care about anything else, and drivers know this. That why you can see so many drivers wearing non-Metro baseball caps, driving with a radio earpiece in their left ear, talking on their Bluetooth or cell phone while driving, being rude to passengers, and on and on. All of this is not allowed, but none of it is enforced. Anyone remember the guy who ran over two women in Fremont, killing one of them (they were in the crosswalk), he still has his job. He just said the sun was in his eyes or something, even though all buses have pull down sun shades. A driver, for no reason, could tell you to go f yourself, and he would keep his job. It's sad. Honest to God, they don't even care about security. What few transit police there are, rarely ride in the busses undercover. They trail behind buses in their transit police car. Metro also randomly assigns camera buses to all routes. This means the worst routes often go without cameras, and safe and quiet suburban routes have camera buses, even though they don't need them. Does that make any sense?

Posted by Jack Mehoff | February 1, 2008 10:40 AM

I ride the bus eveyday and have seen that a postive attude and a promise to pay on the next ride made by the person who may not have fare at the time, helps.
I've seen people try to get by the driver by showing fake passes,tranfers and putting in less than full fare.
As I understand, if you do not pay the fare the driver writes out a report on where the person gets on and off the bus and a description of the person. the report goes to metro's security office.

Posted by ballard98117 | February 1, 2008 12:19 PM

Ride free zone is a good concept, it keeps the busses moving in the high traffic corridors (ie, all doors can be open, nobody is fumbling for change, etc).

Posted by Donolectic | February 1, 2008 2:44 PM

Have Ron Sims fire the board that supervises Metro?

That, my young friend, is the King County Council. (Just because it's impossible doesn't make it a bad idea.)

Posted by Ned | February 2, 2008 3:36 PM

I just have to comment after reading all of the posts.
I drove for Metro/king county for 11 years and have a little insight into what causes the environment on the bus to be less than pleasant at times.
My opinion is that Metro/king county does both the bus drivers and passengers a big disservice by not making it a clear policy that you must pay your fare to ride the bus.People now take it for granted that they must be given a free ride no matter what-these people are usually the troublemakers.The ride free area is a really big mistake .You have filthy,violent,drugged and/or drunk
people getting on the bus starting all sorts of problems-this policy should be eliminated.The management running Metro makes it worse for the drivers and passengers by not listening to sane suggestions.I live in san diego and take the bus all of the time, this system is run so much better that Seattles.In San diego no fare=no ride.Try riding on the trolley with no ticket and expect a big ticket if you get caught.

Posted by tickyul | February 8, 2008 12:58 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).