Security changes for King County Metro to keep drivers, commuters safe

King county plans on improving bus driver safety.

SEATTLE — A new King County plan to make bus drivers and riders safer on Metro buses calls for millions to accelerate getting cameras on board and adding Metro Police staffing.

“I’ve definitely been on a bus recently where someone almost got punched in the face,” bus rider Alyssa Lair said. “So I’ve had my share of bad bus experiences.”

Lair said she grew up in Seattle and generally feels safe on its buses, but incidents like that are hard to forget.

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A KIRO 7 investigation brought some of those incidents to light in May, showing surveillance camera video on board buses that captured wild behavior and assaults.

In the spring, King County Metro said it planned to spend about $6.4 million dollars to get cameras on all its buses by early 2021.

On Thursday, councilmember Rod Dembowski revealed that the county’s new plan will get those cameras on board much sooner at a higher price.

“It calls for installing cameras on all 1,500 of our coaches,” he said. “Today, we're just under 50 percent. We're going to spend about eight million dollars and get that done by 2018.”

Monitors will be tested on some buses, a reminder to people that they are being recorded.

“I definitely think that would help, especially with the violence I’ve seen on buses,” Lair said.

Millions will go toward more police presence. The King County Sheriff's Office has applied for a federal grant, which would pay for 7seven more transit police officers.

Dembowski said the county plans to allocate $3 million toward more transit police, or overtime, or a combination of the two.

As of August, Metro Transit police have the authority to issue a suspension notice to anyone riding a bus who is endangering others with their behavior.

“I like it,” bus rider David Pelletier said. “I think it should happen. I used to ride the E line all the time, [and] when it comes out of North Seattle, it's people drinking on there.”

King County Metro said suspensions can last anywhere from 30 days to a year for crimes against people.

The sheriff's office, which oversees the Transit Police unit, said that since the measure was just passed last month, it's taking a close look at the suspensions and how they'll be enforced.

Bus driver Kim Rochon said the plan is a step in the right direction, especially since it allows drivers to have their personal phones turned on and available to use in case their radios don’t work.

Rochon said she is curious about Metro’s proposal to test shields and see if they provide additional safety for bus operators while still allowing them to do their jobs properly.

“Does this [plan] have the safety measures you were looking for to improve safety for drivers and passengers?” KIRO 7 asked Dembowski.

“Well, I think it goes a long way,” he said. “We’ve got to fund it. There’s a lot of recommendations. We’ve got to implement it.”