Photo depicting the side of a King County Metro Line 36 bus stopped at the street corner of South Bayview Street and Beacon Avenue South.

Increased Drug Use on King County Buses Raises Safety Concerns for Employees

by Ronnie Estoque

According to data provided by King County Metro, there were 46 drug-related reports made by operators and customers on King County Metro buses in 2019. That amount grew exponentially to over 1,885 reports in 2022 alone, according to Jeff Switzer, a public information officer with King County Metro.

“The following drug-related reports are employee-reported and are not verified. Metro has worked diligently with frontline staff to encourage reporting and to streamline the incident reporting system,” Switzer said. “We are seeing the results of that effort with an increase in reports coming over the last 18 months, which has allowed us to deploy transit security resources to where they can be most effective.”

Ken Price has been the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 587 for four and a half years, which represents a variety of transit worker positions such as bus operators, cleaners, mechanics, technical trainers working bus rails, schedulers, dispatchers, and more.

He acknowledged that increased drug use on King County Metro buses has been a growing concern among workers represented by ATU Local 587.

“We’ve had mechanics, shelter cleaners, bus operators just say, you know, I’m leaving. I’m done. I can’t put up with this — longtime members that have left,” Price said. “There’s a lot of forced overtime in many sections. That’s probably the number one concern… [for workers].”

Last December, King County Metro began its soft launch of their Terminal Support Teams, which aims to place teams of behavioral health peers at transit locations. Currently, their initial locations for rolling out the program are the Burien and Aurora Village Transit Centers.

“As the hiring process continues to progress, the behavioral health peers staff expects to increase to a total of at least 8 peers to support expanded operations to seven days a week at both locations,” Switzer said.

According to Price, more needs to be done at the state level to ensure the safety of his workers. In regard to increasing accurate data for drug use on buses, ATU Local 587 is discussing the creation of a QR code that would redirect both operators and customers to a form for reporting. He describes the current reporting rates of drug use on buses as “really poor.”

“We [ATU Local 587] envision going to work and having a safe workplace,” Price added. “That affects your mind, it affects you going to work, or focusing on the job.”

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: King County Metro 36 bus in North Beacon Hill on February 1, 2023. Photo is attributed to SDOT (under a Creative Commons, CC BY-NC 2.0 license).

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