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August 26, 2013 at 5:31 PM

Bus drivers’ petition says job stress getting worse

The recent downtown shooting aboard a King County Metro Transit bus is just one symptom of a work environment that creates unacceptable stress, bus drivers said Monday.

Driver Chuck Lare, several colleagues, and the new Seattle Transit Riders Union handed letters and 450 petition signatures to the Metropolitan King County Council.

On the morning of Aug. 12, a mentally disturbed man shot a bus driver in the cheek and arm, then forced his way onto another bus where police fatally shot him. The wounded driver was treated at the hospital.

The petition says in part:

Factors beyond the control of Operators have created an explosion of complaints. These factors include: rising demand for public transit; cuts in service hours; “schedule efficiencies” that save Metro millions of dollars, delay service and overcrowd buses putting more stress on drivers; ever-changing fare structures and policies; cuts in Customer Service, bus-cleaning and mechanical support. In general Operators are being asked to do more with less, placing unrealistic expectations of “customer service” delivery on front line workers. Operators are being turned into frontline scapegoats for a transit system under pressure – at a cost to our health and safety.

Metro says, however, that complaints have stayed about the same over the last few years, and the average bus driver receives only 1.5 complaints a year. And of all complaints Metro receives, only one-fifth specificially gripe about the bus drivers, according to spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok.

Lare said later he didn’t have data showing a spike in formal complaints. “Anecdotally, the heat on the drivers has escalated,” he said.

A longtime problem is scheduling, which Metro tightened after a 2009 audit.  Some drivers are seeking longer or guaranteed break times because when buses run late, a driver will lose a meal period, or sometimes be unable to use the restroom, without running late — which in turn upsets passengers.

“The current system works only when the sun is shining, the birds are singing, all the lights are green, everybody uses their ORCA card, and the driver never has to get up out of their seat,” Doug Frechin told the council, adding that colleagues will drink less fluid, or urinate in a bottle. “What good is a $30-an-hour job, if we are killing ourselves,’ he said, citing the wage earned by veteran, full-time operators.

Labor talks are under way for the next contract, and General Manager Kevin Desmond said scheduling is being discussed. Desmond also said schedules have improved lately, and buses are 80 percent on-time.  The petition was compiled by individual drivers, not the Amalgamated Transit Union, whose local president was at an international conference Monday.

Other suggestions were:  better mental-health services for the downtown population; a less-punitive system for complaints; moving supervisors from their desks or vans into the buses; a rule to ban talking to the driver while a bus is moving; and high-income taxes to increase Metro funding.

The drivers’ letter:

The petition:






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