FOLLOWUP: Metro GM’s response to bus cancellations; City Council briefing ahead

How’s your bus route doing this week? We haven’t seen any Metro texts/tweets about West Seattle cancellations in the past few days, unlike last week. In addition to the Metro explanation we published, City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen was looking into it, and has shared two things – first, a response he received from Metro general manager Kevin Desmond; second, Rasmussen’s response to that, including a note about a briefing ahead. First, from Desmond to Rasmussen:

Thank you for sharing your concerns with me. I hope this information helps clarify Metro’s readiness and commitment to provide daily bus service across King County and Seattle and increased service planned as part of the September service change. We also want to describe the lengths our organization goes to each day to provide our customers with transit service they depend on.

We are in a transition time of rapid growth in transit service, which unfortunately has seen a fluctuating number of individual peak commute trip cancellations that is higher than we would like.

After a year of driver attrition and a freeze on hiring drivers leading up to budget-related service cuts in September 2014, Metro quickly reversed and launched a hiring effort for operators after Prop 1 passed. Drivers are the backbone of providing service and our ongoing hiring efforts were necessary to prepare for expansion of service in Seattle in June and September 2015 and March 2016.

We have more than 2,500 operators – about 1,600 full-time and 900 part-time. Right after Prop 1 passed, we got started on hiring to implement planned service. We have hired 212 part-time operators from January through August, and promoted 173 operators to full-time, and additionally are increasing staffing in our rail section in advance of U Link and First Hill Streetcar. We anticipate hiring an additional 225 part-time operators and promoting an additional 96 operators to full time through March 2016. Metro is pursuing a wide variety of recruiting strategies beyond attending job fairs and going to local colleges and employment centers, such as developing a sophisticated ad campaign (“Secret Identity” videos) and an individualized “Drive for Metro” webpage that is being actively promoted through social media and other channels.

To increase our ranks of drivers, we promoted part-time drivers to full-time and recruited entry level drivers into the part-time ranks. This created gaps in our workforce during the hiring and training processes, as part-time drivers require five weeks of training and full-time drivers require 1-2 weeks of training. As the workforce shifted and drivers were unavailable during training, this put additional pressure during commute times on a limited pool of standby drivers and required us to draw in even more help from drivers willing to take on extra shifts and trips, a provision we worked out with ATU Local 587. In recent weeks, we have seen about 50 peak commute trips a week canceled for lack of an operator spread out across Metro’s entire service area – out of a scheduled 56,000 work week trips. As we reported in the West Seattle Blog, we go to great lengths to find replacement operators with the workforce we have when a driver is ill or otherwise unavailable. We also launched a new effort to alert customers when possible that a trip is canceled – even revising alerts when a driver is identified to pick up a trip.

Each trip canceled is unfortunate and regrettable, and can make travel difficult for commuters who count on us. It can cause crowding on following buses and frustration when buses are full. During this ramp up in transit service, we are aggressively managing our workforce to deliver. Overall, Metro provides more than 99 percent of the 11,211 trips each weekday, or 56,000 trips each work week. As service expands in September, the efforts outlined above will continue in order to maintain service. The increase in canceled peak commute trips is a temporary challenge we are working hard to address. Hiring more drivers is the key to solving this challenge and we foresee the next several weeks as the key transition window where cancellations will smooth out and drop. We expect improvements with each new graduating class of bus drivers. We assure riders that we are doing all we can to aggressively manage the challenge and use the resources we have to provide dependable service. We apologize for the temporary inconvenience as we ramp up transit service.

Now, from Rasmussen to Desmond in response:

I appreciate the importance of careful screening and training of transit operators as METRO ramps up to provide more service in Seattle. Safety should not be compromised.

I have requested the Seattle Department of Transportation to provide the City Council Transportation Committee with a briefing on the first three months of enhanced METRO service in Seattle. The meeting will be on Tuesday September 22, 2015 at 9:30 AM in the Council Chambers.

I would like to invite you to attend and participate. Please include information on the first three months’ experience from METRO’s experience. Please include in your briefing an update on the results of METRO’s efforts to provide the added service paid for by Seattle.

The briefing will be an open meeting, so you can attend at City Hall, or watch it live via the Seattle Channel. The cancellations on north West Seattle routes – and other problems – had been particularly galling to riders because those routes (55, 56, 57) had been listed in the June service change as getting city funding to “help improve on-time reliability.”

18 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Metro GM's response to bus cancellations; City Council briefing ahead"

  • Ray September 9, 2015 (6:02 pm)

    It is amazing they cancel trips in the farther flung areas that cover more distance instead of cutting back in the downtown-only services where people can better compensate via walking.

    It is decisions and actions like this that keep me voting no to transpiration levies at the city and county level. If they could for just one month actually deliver the service they promise, I might have a better opinion. But it has been on failure after another.

  • busrider September 9, 2015 (6:11 pm)

    The city of Seattle should benefit from Prop 1 since it is Seattle taxpayers who are paying for it. But some bus routes that originate and terminate outside of the city limits are also benefiting from Prop 1. Those are the routes that need to be canceled, not the in-city routes.

  • pagefive September 9, 2015 (6:30 pm)

    I’d like to know how they screen applicants to ensure they have the right disposition for such a stressful job. I had a really horrible and disappointing experience with a driver just this week. She was totally unprofessional, actually TRYING to pick a fight and escalate the situation. I’ve been a regular Metro rider for over 20 years but between this and the recent canceled trips, I’m about ready to call it quits. Out of curiosity, what are the consequences for drivers receiving one or more complaints? This driver told me to file a complaint (her suggestion, not mine) like she didn’t even care.

  • Jon Wright September 9, 2015 (6:33 pm)

    Ray, I think basing your decision whether or not to support public transportation that tens of thousands of people use every day upon their criteria for canceling 0.1% of daily trips is a bit harsh!

  • Neighbor September 9, 2015 (6:35 pm)

    I agree Busrider!!!! I suspect the same because king county council heavily favors the suburbs though the ridership is a lot lower. Metro needs to do a better job explaining why the 56/57/55 got cancelled all those many times. They had better not be filling routes outside of seattle

  • Curtis September 9, 2015 (6:36 pm)

    You don’t think that maybe the routes get cancelled because they can’t find a driver that knows that route? Or maybe they can’t find a driver that is willing to drive that route? I doubt very seriously that these cancellations for lack of operators are targeted in anyway towards any area of town. If Downtown Doug doesn’t show up, but Woodinville Willie does, whatchyagonna do? I don’t think we want Doug learning his Eastside Route on the job with a full bus nor would we want Willie driving around downtown and “learning” which streets are one way streets.

  • Hey September 9, 2015 (7:01 pm)

    Jon Wright,

    Let the tens of thousand users pay, prop 1 was a scam by Seattle and the bus people to extract more money from the taxpayer just like the new transportation levy that doesn’t address substantive problems. They don’t even know what they are going to do with a billon dollars they just want the billon dollars.

  • Trickycoolj September 9, 2015 (7:25 pm)

    Pagefive- what a long time driver friend of mine said about the complaints is that they have to review them 1:1 with their supervisor so it really sucks when you get one. Especially in the instances when the bus ahead of you is a no-show and when you show up everyone assumes your excessively late.

  • newnative September 9, 2015 (7:34 pm)

    I can say from first hand experience that there are indeed first time drivers on West Seattle routes. The new drivers don’t adhere to the schedule, read the routes when they should be driving, argue with riders about where they can disembark, pass people at the stops, who were waiting and are wildly waving. It’s stressful when busses that aren’t full pass you up.

  • flimflam September 9, 2015 (8:01 pm)

    now wait a minute – I thought the cancelations and mass hysteria would only occur if metro didn’t get their LAST subsidy?

    no way on prop 1. just shy of a billion dollars? the city (and metro) are terrible stewards of our never ending taxes and levies.

  • Colleen September 9, 2015 (8:37 pm)

    So going by the 50 number I went and looked at the Twitter feed for metro – 15 of the canceled routes last week were West Seattle routes. With about half of those being the 56/57. Not sure if I call that spread out.

  • Zanda September 9, 2015 (8:52 pm)

    A big problem with the 56/57 is that with only a handful of runs a day, there are probably fewer drivers bothering to learn those routes. This has been a problem on the 37 for several years – and I’ve had the fun of giving drivers directions many times! But it’s not a great start to the day – when the bus arrives rather late – and the driver has a map in his/her hand!

  • BJack September 10, 2015 (9:32 am)

    @pagefive & @Trickycoolj – I’ve been a rider for years and have unfortunately had the displeasure of having to submit complaints online due to numerous amounts of issues – unprofessional bus drivers being one of them – and haven’t heard so much as a peep back on any of them. I’m not sure of their “official” process with those kinds of situations, but I can honestly say I don’t believe they give a crap. Pff. Our problem, not theirs, you know? The one time I did see a minute amount of care put into an investigation into a driver’s reprehensible behavior was when multiple riders actually summoned a transit police representative at the last bus stop on that particular route and called the driver out in front of them (this was after he had screamed at a number of riders to “sit down and shut the hell up!”, mind you, and was completely uncalled for and out of line). That driver was back on the job and up to his old ways once again by the next business day. Waste of time if you ask me…..
    @Curtis – I find it either hard to believe or dismaying that Metro would hire drivers who would then turn to them and say, “I don’t know that route. I’m not driving that route.” Metro is their employer. If they don’t know that route – or if they “don’t want to” drive that route – boot ’em! When my boss gives me a project to complete I don’t tell them, “Meh, I don’t really feel like I want to do that project. No thanks.”!!! That’s a bunch of BS. You hire them, they do the job you give them, they get paid, end of story. There shouldn’t be any grey areas in understanding this.

  • Mike Lindblom September 10, 2015 (9:55 am)

    FWIW, this morning I spotted a new driver behind the wheel of a #55, where the supervisor was explaining how to merge from the WS Bridge bus lane into the northbound 99 exit. (And the traffic cop was out busting drivers in the bus lane.)

  • jt September 10, 2015 (12:12 pm)

    I understand the need to train new drivers, but that means they knew this shortage was going to happen! If it takes a few months to ramp up to the number of drivers needed for new service, you should schedule the new service to start at the END of those months, not before them!

    Also I couldn’t shake the suspicion that a lot of the drivers calling in sick were just converting sick time to vacation, considering that virtually all of the sick days were on Fridays and Mondays, often back to back making a nice little 4-day getaway. If you’re planning a long weekend, you should let your boss know ahead of time so they can find someone to cover your shift. Maybe Metro could roll vacation and sick leave into a single PTO benefit, so people don’t have to malinger to get their time off.

  • BDriver September 29, 2015 (12:48 pm)

    @BJack Before an operator can drive a particular route, they first have to qualify on it by riding the route, have the driver of that bus sign their qualification card, certifying they actually rode the route, then be verbally tested on it with a training supervisor at their base. Once it’s in the system, if they’re assigned that route, they’re required to drive it. You don’t get to pick and choose.

    @jt Bottom line is there aren’t enough drivers currently to cover the increased service. For that matter, over the summer there weren’t enough drivers to cover the work. Metro drivers are frustrated too. Metro should not have increased service until they had the drivers to cover it.

  • BDriver September 29, 2015 (1:15 pm)

    BTW, 50 trips per week? The past few days, it has been nearly that many per day, per base – and there are 7 bases. Potentially 250-350 cancelled trips PER DAY!

    • WSB September 29, 2015 (1:17 pm)

      Where can we find proof of that? The claim at yesterday’s meeting (which I will have a story about later today) was 11 per day.

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