caseyrs77, via Flickr
caseyrs77, via Flickr

Levi Pulkkinen of the P-I crunches the numbers and finds that, since 1998, incidents on Metro have risen almost five times higher than ridership.

Route 174 is the 2008 champion with 60 incidents, a stunning upset of the usual winner, Route 7 (with 52).  The 7 is both the backbone of the Rainier Valley and the highest-ridership route in the system.

To keep things in perspective, however, system-wide we’re still below 5 incidents per million rides.  Furthermore, “incident” encapsulates everything from the mildly uncomfortable to the absolutely unacceptable.  Pulkkinen’s pie chart indicates that about 1/3 of the incidents materially effect innocent bystanders: harassment, theft, sex offenses, threats, and some portion of “other.”  I think that compares pretty favorably with the odds of something bad happening to you when you drive.

With Route 174 likely to be split into Route 124 and RapidRide A in 2010, its reign is sure to be brief.  However, a whole new candidate will appear when light rail opens.  Consult my post from late last year on how Link can avoid this title.

And by the way, there’s a first time for everything: the P-I comment thread is totally worth it. There’s noise, sure, but John Niles crunches the numbers to show that these statistics are nothing to fret about, while commenter Seattle_Music points out that many incidents go unreported.  Of course, truly serious assaults are generally reported.

Do unpleasant people and fights between others discourage you from riding the bus?

45 Replies to “P-I: Metro Assaults are Up”

  1. I once got in a fairly serious altercation with a man on the 540. I was wearing a pink shirt (I look good in pink) and it some how pissed him off. It never came to blows, but it did give me reason to not catch the late night bus as often.

  2. I had a pretty unpleasant situation on the 174 once. A lot of very angry people yelling at the driver. Decided that if I missed the last 194 from the airport from then on I was going to take a taxi.

    1. Imagine how the driver must have felt. Taking the taxi tends not to be an option for the guy/gal behind the wheel.

  3. I ride the bus all the time, but I continue to be a little freaked out by the quality of people aboard the bus. It sometimes seems like something could easily happen when there are so many loonies around. Just the other day, I was on the northbound 28 in Ballard, and someone pooped on the bus seat.

    That bears repeating. Someone pooped. On the bus seat. I saw it, it was disgusting. Another very nice passenger brought it to the attention of the driver and called it an “accident”, but seriously – what kind of person defecates on a public bus seat? In the front no less!!

  4. I’d like to see the numbers divided by time of day. Does the number of incidents increase as it gets later in the day? What about the destructiveness of the incidents?

  5. I am a young senior citizen by the way, and I ride a lot in the evening after dinner time.

    Which would mean he’s riding during the second half of the peak period :D

    I rode the 174 once–last Halloween. It was about 21:30 or so–just late enough for me to have missed the last 194, but I still needed to get north. Also, it was early enough for everyone else to still be out partying. The operator was awesome: the doors were completely open before the bus came to a complete stop, and as soon as the last boarding passenger’s foot was in the door it started moving forward.
    It was also this trip when I realized why the most of the interior lights are kept on. Sure, it’d be nice to keep the lights low, but with them on I know where everyone else is.

    I’ve encountered other routes where some people don’t smell too great, and others that just won’t shut up, but all in all it’s been a pleasant experience.

  6. I am worried that the violence will keep the riders of the new Light Rail… both the two lines mentioned here, the 174 and the 7 seem to have ‘similar’ lines to the new Light Rail route.

    What do you all think? Will the light rail suffer from unpleasant rider issues, thus keeping of commuters?

    1. If unpleasant riders issues kept people off transit, New York City would have a really expensive system of empty tin cans running under the street.

      It’s a fact of life, but security guards should help.

      1. It is a fact of life in the city, indeed. This is NOT Bellevue; real cities are up late at night w/ all sorts wandering around. I’ve been a Metro pass carrier (now ORCA!) since 1980 and have seen one fight (on a #55 on the Viaduct no less) but more than a bus load or ten of weirdos of all kinds over the years. KC Sherifs should be much more visible on buses and in the tunnel – SPD as well on a “rental” basis spot checking troublesome areas. Hopefully if two car trains are running at night, there’ll be security in the 2nd car; again, police presence would be far superior.

    2. No. Transit always has some crazies, but the vast majority of people don’t care.

    3. While drivers aboard busses tend to be largely powerless to deal with on-board issues, if they’re at least aware of them they can take some action (calling for help, pulling the bus over, intervening verbally). This tends to be a bigger an issue the longer the bus as incidents retreat out of the driver’s view.

      The “out of sight” of the one quasi-authority figure who will be aboard every train will very much be a security issue on-board the new trains, which is why an active security presence will be necessary to ensure rider safety.

  7. Odds of something happening to you as I drive, sure you can look at it that way. Or how about just being in the public sphere? Busses are public places just as sidewalks are, and I don’t feel any more worried taking a bus than I would walking. Some busses travel through rough areas and you need to be a little more alert.

    That said, I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit on public transport through the relatively few years I’ve been an adult, and I think Seattle is pretty tame in comparison.

  8. I ride mostly commuter and suburban Eastside routes so I rarely see any unpleasant people, even during late night trips with many people riding.

    I rode the 358 a couple times and now I’m disgusted at the very sight of a 358. The bus runs on Aurora Ave N which is my least favorite street in Seattle. There was a very angry and crazy guy who threatened the driver and tried to board the bus. Glad I don’t have any business in that part of town.

    My mom and sister took the 106 from Renton once and will never ride that route again, instead waiting for the 101 which is faster to begin with.

    I try to sit near the front whenever possible, the rowdy kids always sit in the back. The lack of a rear window on the low-floor buses only make it worse. That’s why I’m glad Metro is having rear windows on the new RapidRide coaches.

    1. yeah but the 101 stops running way before the 106 does. Just sit tight look weird yourself and things will be ok the 106 is a weird route though, any time of day.

    2. Oh that’s great news! I miss the back windows – they make the back of the bus feel more open, even if it’s just as crowded.

  9. I’ve never had a real issue on a bus. I’ve certainly seen my share of crazies, but nothing that would constitute a report. I know what the scarier routes in the system are and try to avoid them; especially at night. I have taken the 358 many times late at night without incident. This route is full of very strange (and often strange-smelling) people no matter what time of day.

  10. The issues I ever had were on the off hours I took the bus, and the area around the old Bon Marche/Macy’s parking garage during the day. I usually just take commuter specials ( 76, 71X) and never had a problem on the bus itself, but going through the U district can yield surprises when I get off the buses :-)

    I used to take the 174 at night to Federal Way back in the early ’90s to visit a girlfriend. That was some scary sh*t.

  11. once on the 44 around 11:30 or midnight on st. patrick’s day I saw a really wild fight in the back, really wild, between two groups of college age kids. The driver locked the bus so it was also like a steel cage death match until one of the groups managed to smash the back door and get out.

    What’s crazy is that one of the guys who escaped actually came back to get his wallet, and I suppose he was arrested when the cops showed up. I got off at the next stop and walked the rest of the way home.

    I never reconsidered taking the bus, it’s too convenient.

    1. If the driver “locked the bus” you need to tell someone about this. Drivers are not to detain anyone. The exact wording of the policy is “Do not detain anyone, under any circumstances.” If the driver was attempting to keep people on-site until security arrived – they were in gross violation of procedure. Tell someone.

      Actual procedure in the case of an on-board conflict is to stop the bus – preferably at a regular stop – and open both doors to allow the perpetrators and/or bystanders egress. What you appear to be describing is a termination-level offense.

  12. My first bus trip in Seattle was on the 174 at night during the wto riots. I just sat near the front and never had any problems.

    I hope that the link will attract enough people that there will be safety in numbers. But even so I think they have done a nice job along the whole route, cleaning up the streets and making the stops look open and safe.

  13. Saying things like you’re more likely to get hit by lightening than be assaulted on the 174 doesn’t make people less fearful. It’s perception that matters, not statistics. And there’s a perception that those routes are scary. And there’s a perception that Metro police never ride on Metro buses, uniformed or undercover. I suppose Metro police knows best how to patrol Metro routes. I think in most cases, they follow behind problem routes in their squad car in case they are needed. But in my opinion, at least from a public perception point of view, this method isn’t effective. Certain buses feel unsafe. And that’s what matters most.

    1. I don’t think there’s even the perception, except among people who don’t go to those places.

      I think it’s just another manifestation of people fearing the ‘other’, whatever that ‘other’ may be.

      1. I don’t think it’s just yuppies on the east side thinking south Seattle routes aren’t safe. There are people who live along those routes who are afraid to take them, especially at night.

      2. Fair enough. Light rail will have more people around in general, plus shorter wait times, so it should be safer, at least.

  14. You get really ‘jadded’ after driving downtown routes for years. It takes a pretty serious situation for the driver to intervene, as most of these are just shouting matches, then someone gets off the bus, and it’s over.
    As the situation escalates, the driver anouncing on the PA for everyone to settle down, or your getting thrown off the bus by transit police (or something like that).
    Stopping the bus at the next zone and getting up out of the seat is the last resort, as the driver has now decided to make this a 3 party negotiation, and may have called for backup by then. Up to that point, MOST drivers I know, don’t bother filing a report. It’s only after you call for the cavalry, that paper work has to be filed when you get back to the base. A pain in the butt, when your tired!
    So the numbers are way under reported, but that’s just the way it is.

    1. Mike,

      Ever since cell phones, I’ve decided I’ll file an SIR even if I’m tired. Nothing worse than one or more anonymous calls describing distorted memories of an incident you never reported.

  15. In shoreline I had the pleasure of listening to a crazy homeless guy boast about his friend that did the occasion job as a hit man. It was probably all made up but was pretty creepy.

  16. In the article, it said that 10 routes accounted for 50% of of all incidents. And when I looked at the list of the 10 routes in question, I noticed that 8 out of the 10 are routes that intersect with the Link line. So it’s safe to assume that many of the people who now ride the worst of the worst bus routes in terms of assaults, will in the future be taking Link.

    1. For a while. With urban renewal these people will be forced out of the MLK valley because LINK will be too convenient for the working stiffs with real jobs that pay real money. The alternative is that it causes the whole line to decay with lots of graffiti, fights on the line, and trashed cars. I doubt ST or Seattle will let that happen.. But it could.

    2. It’s not safe to assume that. Just like discussions of ‘where car trips will go’ if we tore down the viaduct, or ‘what ridership will be’ on a line that goes through low density, there’s a basic assumption underlying your comment that ignores changes in land use or in trips.

      There *will* be gentrification along Link. Some of the people causing those incidents will move to other routes. Some of them will do better financially or have new opportunities and get their lives together. More than anything, the opportunities will be there for fewer new kids to become violent adults. I think it’s safe to assume that the number of incidents per passenger mile will decrease dramatically with Link.

  17. I live in Tacoma and commute to Seattle daily. I usually ride the Sounder Train. It does take a bit longer but it’s a much more pleasant ride. I do however, ride the #3 or #4 from my office down the hill to catch another bus to Northgate when I have meetings. If anyone has ever ridden the #3 or #4 knows these are buses you don’t want to ride unless you HAVE to! They are too over crowded and altercations and irritations between passengers happen way too often. I prefer the Train when I have a choice.

      1. The streetcar won’t take away Harborview :) As a relatively regular #3 rider (one of my two quickest routes downtown) I can say that most of the craziness I see on the 3 is totally Harborview-related.

  18. I remember coming home from the east coast on a Sunday and yep, I missed the last 194 (I was still attending UW and living by the Federal Way Transit Center at the time) so yeah, that was the first (and last) time I rode the 174. Some homeless drunk tried offering me “favors” (yes, that kind) in exchange for a place for the night. “No” was the wrong answer. Thank you to the fellow passengers who subdued this jerk until the police arrived.

  19. Well I guess I’m not surprised about the 174. I tried saving money by taking that instead of a cab from the airport to downtown…boy will i never do that again!!

    Some thug cornered me on the bus and tried to steal my iPod. I broke free, but then he started chasing me around Westlake Plaza and didn’t stop until I had to scream. The sad part was that despite all the people on the bus or outside, nobody helped or seemed to notice.

    Obviously the number of reported crimes on the bus are lower than they actually are. I’m sure there are more people like me who never thought of reporting an assault…just focusing on trying to escape! So since then I’ve always avoided the bus. And if I HAD to, I’d sit up front (the assault happened in the back).

      1. The 194 isn’t an option after 9:30 pm when it stops running. On weekends it’s worse when the last trips on Saturday and Sunday are at 9:00 pm and 7:30 pm, respectively.

        The 174 takes forever to get downtown and stops much more often, increasing your risk.

        It’s a good thing Metro had a sign at the airport telling last week’s APTA conference attendees to take the 194 to downtown.

  20. I wonder if the full implementation of ORCA and the elimination of paper transfers will have any effect on crime. I suspect that at least some of the people who cause trouble on buses are the people who get a transfer and use it all day because drivers rarely check the time the transfer expires. With ORCA the potential to ride cheaply and abuse the transfer is gone, which might decrease the number of troublemakers on the bus.

    1. Good point, I hadn’t really considered that. Are we really getting rid of paper transfers?

      1. Well, I thought we were, but I get most of my transit info from this blog! The ORCA site just talks about the elimination of interagency transfers. Maybe metro is still going to have them for bus to bus? It’d be smart to get rid of them. Lots of people at the PI site were calling for the elimination of the Ride Free Area as the solution to crime. I think eliminating paper transfers would be similar but better, as the RFA has schedule and tourism benefits.

    2. Unless, of course, the ORCA reader is down (= free ride, usually) but I hope they get those issues fixed.

      At least paper transfers between agencies are going away this fall. Kitsap Transit plans to eliminate paper transfers. Everett Transit hasn’t had or accepted paper transfers since 2006. It’s a few steps towards a cashless, paperless fare collection system.

  21. I’m not surprised to see the 358 or the 174 on the list. By far the majority of the scary/weird on-board incidents I’ve witnessed or been involved in are on those routes.

    The 174 at least seems to be a bit mellower during the day. The 358 is a zoo even during peak commute hours.

    Kind of surprised to see the 7 there, I’ve never really had a problem on that route any time of day or night.

    The 3 & 4 can be a bit strange, but not typically in a scary way. I’ve had some interesting times on the #2 through Belltown too, mostly due to drunk/high homeless people. The First Hill/CD portion of the route was never a problem for me though.

    I have to agree with those complaining about security along 3rd between Pike and Stewart. There really needs to be a visible police presence on those blocks between 5 PM and Midnight. Another area that can get pretty sketchy is the Union/ID Station area along Jackson after 5 PM.

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