[UPDATE 8:00 am: This TV report provides some video of what the shields look like.  It’s hardly an airtight seal.]

The Seattle PI reports that Metro will install Plexiglas barriers between drivers and passengers in a handful of buses as a trial run.

After a bus driver was beaten and knocked unconscious while behind the wheel, officials with King County Metro Transit are exploring whether to enclose drivers behind Plexiglas barriers.

As a pilot project, security partitions will be installed in a small number of buses, General Manager Kevin Desmond said. More details, including costs, will be announced in the next few weeks, he said.

I’m not so sure that Metro’s limited dollars should be going to Plexiglas barriers. As the article notes, a barrier could cement a notion that buses are unsafe. And if a passenger’s first source of aid is behind a barrier, wouldn’t that make one feel less protected? While bus drivers can go through dangerous parts of town, it stands to reason that if a bus is an unsafe place to be then passengers and not just drivers should be protected. That means things like security cameras and a random police presence could be more effective for overall safety than Plexiglas barriers for drivers.

61 Replies to “Should Drivers have Plexiglas Barriers?”

  1. Your last paragraph nails it. Thank you for that.

    And further, what would those barriers say about Metro bus service when some/all of the other transit agencies decline to follow suit?

    It’s hard enough to get some of my family members to consider riding the bus. The first time they see a driver in a cage, they will flee for sure.

    1. Does make a good arguement for converting 358 and 7 into streetcar/lightrail, though.

  2. How many times has this been a problem in Seattle? Hardly enough to justify a fish tank for the driver.This reaction by Metro seems poorly thought out and knee-jerkey at best.

    Come on Metro. Use the little money you have for some real cops that can provide us with some real security. Even after the DSTT incident, a wonderful PR image for transit btw, still no real cops.

    1. 150 times last year to answer your question. Until your sitting in a seat with someone an inch away spitting in your face, threatening you, slapping you, etc. it is REAL EASY to make your statements. Get in your car someday, pull over and invite a druggie or a drunk to sit shotgun with you for 2 hours while you try to drive………..

  3. Link is actually here: http://www.seattlepi.com/transportation/416572_shields18.html

    If someone is angry enough to assault a driver, what makes Metro or the ATU think a piece of plexiglass will stop them? After all the monsters that attacked the 124 “also smashed out rear windows and bent the rear doors”.

    They’re not bullet-prrof; wouldn’t have saved Mark. Pre-emptive intervention laws concerning Mental Illness might have.

    1. Erik,

      [b]what makes Metro or the ATU think a piece of plexiglass will stop them? [/b]

      ATU doesn’t think this. While our President, Paul Bachtel is looking in to the option, he has no illusions about it’s “effectiveness” and cited several problems with these barriers where they’d been installed elsewhere – including one anecdotal/hypothetical situation where a driver could be doused with lighter fluid and set afire, if you can imagine.

      1. That’s what sometimes happened in NYC with the token booths. That why they had these amazing fire-suppression systems built in them. :(

      2. If I were a bus driver I wouldn’t want the constraints of the new “cage” If some guy was out to get me, I’d rather have some room to maneuver… a door to the left?

        Some visible arrests by undercover cops should do the trick. ie, let people know that cops ride the buses, that you can’t tell who is who, and that “dangerous” routes have patrols on them.

      3. Yes, indeed.

        Has anyone EVER seen a cop actually RIDING a transit bus in King County?????

      4. FYI: Busses ARE UNSAFE. To be more concerned about “giving the impression” that busses are unsafer is ridiculous. We don’t want to offend passengers??? To be more concerned about your interaction with the riders is ridiculous. To be more concerned that the shields cause glare, or interfere with circulation, etc.???? Fix THOSE PROBLEMS, don’t forgo the installation. Cost concerns? Metro sure found the money to strip off all of the two bike racks and replace with three bike racks when seldom do we even see two on a bus. Until your assaulted life is easy to sit back and say you want to “be closer to your passengers”. I was assaulted. I want a shield. I want to feel an attempt at safety.

      5. K,
        I assume you are a driver. I get the impression that many of your fellow drivers don’t share your view about shields.

        As a passenger I’d rather Metro work toward creating an atmosphere where people behave themselves on buses. A much more noticeable police presence on the buses would do that.

        What is the annualized cost of shields going to be including purchase, installation, and maintenance? What level of increased patrols on buses would that same money buy?

        As for bike racks you obviously don’t have much experience with routes where even with the three bike racks they are often full during most of the day even in the winter.

      6. The drivers that don’t share my view are either part time drivers that drive only commuter routes morning or afternoon, or drivers that have not experienced an assault. Or the big, burly drivers that think they can “handle anything”, oh and have never been assaulted either.

        I’d rather have Metro work to more of a Club Med atmosphere too, but this has not happened and until it does the protection clearly needs to be put into place.

        The annual cost of shields is low. Much lower than the cost of a life.

        And lastly to point out that I “obviously don’t have much experience with bike racks?????” Often full? What routes? Are you a professional rider? Do you ride 24/7 so you know which routes because I have driven most routes from Bellevue to North Seattle to Federal Way to West Seattle, etc. and seldom in a full shift do I have more than 2 bikes in a 10 hour period. And certainly I am not saying to get rid of the bike racks, I AM SAYING THAT THROWING AWAY the two-bike racks which were serving the purpose and replacing with 3-bike racks is WASTEFUL and wrong when the money is now needed. Period.

  4. One of my favorite things about living in Seattle is interacting with the friendly bus drivers. I’m not kidding. I come from Chicago, where god help you if you actually have to ask the driver a question! I didn’t have a car the first couple of years after I moved here, and rode the buses all over the exploring the city. I would frequently engage in long conversations with the driver, who would act as an ambassador to the city. Yes, it’s TERRIBLE about the bus drivers who were beaten, and we must protect them…but let’s not ruin our quality of life in the process.

      1. Oh, I dunno. Lots are a few are not. As a driver, I’ve found some other drivers about as approachable as a spring-loaded bear trap. Had one the other day practically bite my head because I had the audacity to ask him if he wouldn’t mind moving up in the layover area so that I could park my own bus behind him.

      2. +1

        I’ve had drivers close their door and drive off without saying a word once they realize I’m a part-time driver – as if I’m some sort of sub-human entity. Thankfully, these drivers are pretty rare and are getting thinned out over time.

      3. Hey, you guys are bus drivers… maybe those guys were saving what little friendliness they had for the bus-riding public. As a bus rider, I don’t really care how unfriendly you guys are to each other. (Okay, I guess I do…)

      4. Way to go. Let’s start a “bash your driver co-worker” forum here. Though drivers can be cordial to the public and answer questions, it is not our job to see who can win the driver with the most personality contest, nor should you as a passenger be focused on interactions with the driver. The job at hand is to get you safely to your destination. And just for your information, statistic wise, the “friendliest” drivers out there are usually the ones that get called into the office for running into things, offending passengers, etc. To be upset about the shields because it takes away social hour with the passengers????

      5. As most of these little ‘dramas’ play out over the course of a full shake up, I’d probably just pull in front of him the next day and let ’em figure out how to get around my big rear end sticking out in the lane.

      6. Mike,

        In trolley land, you don’t pass other trolleys. :)

        At any rate – I prefer to hang back and let the guy hog the layover area. If he’s been doing this for 25 years as he said (even though this particular layover area ain’t been there that long) then my minor irritation isn’t going to overcome his dedication to being a dick.

    1. Oh boy, I come from the Chi as well and know exactly what you mean. The operator-passenger interactions here are so distinctly Seattle/West Coast. I would hate to lose that. Install a few cameras and put faux eyes on the rest. Panopticon.

  5. As a Metro driver, I am against this. I don’t feel it will make us safer. also, I have claustrophobia. i can’t even drive in the tunnel. how am i supposed to drive in a plexi-glass cage?

    1. Think of the disability claim! (I’m kidding, folks) mrwaturi’s poing is a good one. If Metro does decide to install these, it would be good investigate how they could be made optional. I *hate* the idea of these doors and would do my best to pick routes not equipped with them. That said, I don’t want my preference overrule drivers who feel the need for them. I don’t drive at night or particularly nasty routes. Also, being a male I’m pretty sure I put up with less crap than female drivers. I’ve heard plenty of pretty scary stories from women at Metro. I’m not particularly big so I don’t think I come across as imposing. Anyway, just a theory not based on any sort of scientific data. And yes, air circulation is a serious issue during the summer. The front of the bus regularly gets over 120 on really hot days.

  6. I have no idea who came up with this poorly thought out idea, but i certainly hope that this doesn’t happen.

    Fare enforcement? Forget it. Can a driver in a tank touch a Reduced Fare permit to make sure it’s real? Nope. Basically,kiss fare enforcement goodbye.

    Accessible buses? Guess what barriers obstruct. Plus, in Chicago, disabled folks are
    reporting the drivers have been instructed under threat of firing to never leave the tank, so forget legally riding the bus in a chair if you can’t secure yourself. I can when using a chair, but not everyone can. Not intelligent, Metro. Oh yeah, and the aisle is reduced in width by 2″. Not tight for me, but if you’re in a big ol power chair…bad. Oh and if Granny falls over on the steps, what are they supposed to do? Metro’s policies are often unflexible and unfair to drivers as it is; this only puts drivers in another bind if they adopt the same rules that other cities such as Chicago seem to be chomping at the bit to adopt. It has nothing to do with driver safety and everything to do with driver harrassment, but i guess it’s supposed to be okay when it’s Metro mangement adding yet another unreasonable edict to our already overtaxed drivers’ lives.

    Passenger safety? *mumble*

    Why isn’t law enforcement enforcing driver assault? This works in most other systems. I guess the Metro cops are too busy doing various other things to care about drivers.

    Bulletproof? Nope. So if someone really wants to do the unthinkable, the driver’s not just trapped in a fishtank she can’t leave, it provides no protection. See “why we don’t have a 359 anymore.”

    Friendliness of the system? Yeah, *mumble* again.

    Perception of safety on Metro? Significantly worsened.

    Pay for cops with the money, and make them do their job. You’ll be seeing 90% of the clientele on the 2, 3/4, 358, 124, etc. quit paying altogether when the driver can’t tell someone to pay their fare.

    This is just a lose-lose-lose situation. Enforce crimes against drivers, don’t put the drivers in completely unprotective cages that only make the bus less accessible and will lead to a false sense of security rather than hiring cops and putting their butts on the buses and at our stops. It’s time for less show, more do; this is doubly true when Metro is running out of money and these driver cages aren’t cheap.

    1. gwen c.

      [b]Fare enforcement? Forget it. Can a driver in a tank touch a Reduced Fare permit to make sure it’s real? Nope. Basically,kiss fare enforcement goodbye.[/b]

      Uh – you can’t kiss something goodbye that doesn’t exist now.

      Drivers aren’t supposed to be touching people’s RFP’s or anything else. We are specifically told that we are “the peacekeepers, not the enforcers”.

      I hope you don’t expect that drivers are doing “enforcement” on fare evasion – because we’re not supposed to.

      1. I’m not expecting jack, personally. Drive the bus, don’t kill me. So far, Metro seems to be running about 100% over 33 years.

        I have seen some of the more egregious RFP cheats be contested by drivers. I will not go into which drivers, as i prefer that they keep their jobs. Perhaps, if they’re listening, i must be “imagining” these drivers. As a permanently disabled person, RFP cheats really annoy me, especially when i get to deal with some idiot whining that i don’t pay for the bus why should i get the tie-down when it takes up three seats? (Actually, i do pay, thanks. Half the time the person bitching runs out the back door outside the RFA anyways. Irony!)

        There is some mental roadblock, i think, to ripping off someone sitting right there vs. someone inside a tank. Just sayin’.

      2. gwen,

        I’m with you on all that – and wonder how some people with RFP’s get them. I’ve had CYCLISTS use them, right after hefting their hybrid onto the bike rack and clamping it down. Judging by the number of these that I see while driving trolleys (particularly those that skirt the CBD), about 35% of the population must have a disability significant enough for a Reduced Fare Permit.

        Another good argument for Orca conversion – no more counterfeits bashed together with a printer and lamination machine.

      3. One of the more insidious stereotypes is that disabled people look it. Although I don’t have a disability that qualifies me for a reduced-fare pass, I do have one that’s mostly invisible to others, and it’s led to awkwardness in terms of others wanting explanations for why I can’t or won’t do such and such. Thus, I can imagine the mental toll for someone appearing able-bodied with a reduced-fare permit that gets contested often. Let’s not diagnose – leave that to the professionals.

      4. Matt,

        I have no such illusion about visible vs. non-visible disabilities. MS (some forms) can come and go; fibromyalgia, some forms of visual disability, disease, etc. However, it’s pretty plain that a great many people out there using reduced fare permits based on disability are doing so fraudulently.

      5. I have a legit RRFP (issued by PT’s old Lakewood Bus Shop; the one that was at the Lakewood [Mall] Transit Center). I can also ride a bicycle. My disability is all internal. I just can’t walk extended distances.

        Should I be required to pay Adult Fare because of that?

      6. Jeff, we are allowed to ask politely to see passes and transfers. I’ve done it on several occasions. It is rare that drivers do so though, based on some of the shocked expressions I saw on people’s faces while I was at Atlantic. It also needs to be done in the bounds of safety.

        We are not allowed to *demand*, enforce, or be rude though. I’ve basically tried to stick by Metro’s policy of asking politely once and then letting it go. I’ve *never* had a complaint. It’s not 100% by any means, but it works for a lot of folks – especially on the Eastside routes. I even had success at Atlantic but I must admit I gave up towards the end of my time there. Most still pay but the hardened minority of fare evaders can only be dealt with if Metro decides to get the police involved. Even then I’m sure they’ll find ways to get out of paying.

  7. My neighbor has an ‘invisible fence’ for his dog.
    Couldn’t Metro just install one of those and have vehicle maintenance ‘juice it up’ a bit.

    1. Who is wearing the collar in your scenario? The driver?! Or are shock collars the new ORCA cards?

  8. I believe that most drivers would agree – plexiglass shields are a bad idea. Aside from the practical issues (glare, heat, etc.) – it’s a bit of a placebo and enabler for the County to abdicate its responsibility to provide a real visible security presence for operators and passengers alike.

    At a recent meeting of ATU Local 587, I asked why there weren’t more uniformed and undercover officers riding aboard buses, argument being that even if there are relatively few officers available for this, a “halo effect” of well-publicized and visible enforcement would deter incidents even where officers are not present.

    The primary comeback for “why not” appears to rest with the union representing transit officers – that if they’re expected to do ride-alongs then they want either more than one officer on board, nearby vehicle-based backup or both.

    In other words – (my spin), it’s fine to put drivers out there with no nearby backup – but it’s waaaay too dangerous for cops.

    1. Thanks for reminding me to write Dow and my King County Councilman. I as a taxpayer and a Metro rider demand the transit police actually on-board patrols of Metro buses.

      If the buses are too dangerous for cops to ride maybe the county should shut Metro down until they find a way to make it safe.

      I can understand the desire of the Police to operate in pairs and I don’t think it is unreasonable. However I don’t see why they can’t translate that in to some actual on-board patrols. I mean OK have a pair of uniformed or undercover cops ride the bus together or have the second officer follow in a car. Is this really so damn hard? SPD seemed to be able to put cops on buses in Seattle before the Sheriff’s office took over.

  9. It seems like there are few enough incidents in which a plexiglass shield would help a driver that it would be difficult to jusgetheir effectiveness from a small pilot program.

    1. I know right? What is the pilot program supposed to find out, anyway? Are they planning on running some tests on unsuspecting drivers? The whole thing is kind of surreal.

  10. Plexiglas barriers? And next we’ll be slipping our ORCA cards through a little slot?

    It’s these sort of the things that advertise: this is a high crime area…expect violence and you will get it.

    Far better if the police could be allowed to clean sweep these areas and get the psychopaths, gangs and druggos off the street.

  11. When I lived in Britain all bus drivers were behind plexiglass, with just a small hole for printing tickets and making change (yes, all drivers made change!) It seemed to be expected that there would be a certain amount of professional distance between the driver and passengers. On their new experimental BRT system, the passengers couldn’t see the driver at all.


    1. That sounds better. What good is plexiglas? Sheet steel allows the drivers to have special days, like ‘pantless Thursdays’.

      1. Pantless Thursdays indeed! Remember, every day can be ‘commando day’.

        Just for the record, I wasn’t praising Britain’s plexiglassed buses, merely stating that it’s not unprecedented and occurs even in very safe places. I think riders should always feel comfortable asking questions of the driver, and plexiglass definitely sends a not-so-subtle message to refrain from doing so.

  12. Serious ADA-compliance issue here – if the driver can’t leave the seat to assist with securing a wheelchair, I can’t see how this could ever get approved.

    I totally agree about having more undercover (or even uniformed) police being the right solution, not armoring the driver. Also, don’t police usually drive around by themselves with no immediate backup? Riding solo on the bus is no different.

  13. Alex

    These shields generally are either partial and allow the driver to enter and exit their seat by swinding around them – or they open like a gate. The driver can of course get in and out of their seat – otherwise they couldn’t get behind the wheel to drive the bus in the first place.

    I think that the point of the barriers (misguided though this “solution” may be) is that the driver is most vulnerable while operating the vehicle or otherwise in their seat attending to other issues.

    1. I thought maybe they would insert you guys into the drivers seat at the bases with a large version of one of those hydraulic tubes at the bank.

  14. I sent Constantine an email asking him to kill the project before it creates bad PR for what I consider to be a very safe form of transportation (I’m more likely to get into a car accident then be assaulted on a bus, I think). Everybody who has commented against this should send a note as well. kcexec@kingcounty.gov

  15. I’m another driver, saying its a bad idea. I don’t want to be an a cage. I have worked nights most of the time and driven many of the bad routes and areas like Rainier, Int’l Blvd, White Center, even the rest of W Seattle, Ballard, N. Seattle, U Dist can have it’s issues too. Spend alot of time on the 106 and 124. I have only ever felt physically threaten ONCE. And that was probasbly because I was being a smart ass, to an already bad situation on the route 23. So I basically caused that situation. Otrher than that everything was fine.


  16. Just a framing point here: No parts of Seattle are “dangerous”. There are areas that have higher crime rates than others, but are they high enough to flat out label that area as “dangerous”? I *really* think not.

    This is the sort of oversimplification that makes people not want to venture forth from their homes, to say nothing of dissuading them from wanting to explore new parts of the city on mass transit. Also, I really worry about the (unintended, I know) connection that this reinforces between “black neighborhood” and “dangerous”.

    Most Americans live in a state of low-level fear of strangers. We constantly are being told about violent crimes, and we irrationally use these isolated incidents to reaffirm our deepest fears and suspicions. This is not a recipe for a healthy society.

    Leave the “d” word out of it. We’re safe. Being the victim of violent crime is *highly unlikely* in any part of Seattle. Take a self defense class, be confident, and have fun exploring your city. It’s safe.

    1. Thanks, Kevin, for re-enforcing how safe our city is. I’ve been riding Seattle Transit, Metro and ST since my Junior High days at all others and have never been or felt threatened – this is all a product of Dan and Kathy and all the rest of those teevee stooges’ endless mantra about how dangerous urban areas are – hogwash!

      1. I’m out in Boston this week, actually. Other than bemoaning how crappy the bus service is, how rude everyone is, and enjoying the deliciousness of Dunkin Donuts drip coffee, one of the things that strikes me is how much less safe i feel in a “good” neighborhood here compared to the “bad” neighborhood i live in in Seattle. My ‘hood has a rep, but i can’t think of the last homicide near me, mostly because the last homicide was before i moved into this area 5 years ago.

        Where i am with family, someone got shot and killed 5 blocks away for 20 bucks. This neighborhood is allegedly “safe.” The bus allegedly runs every 30 minutes.

        I don’t really believe either.

  17. Mike B: “Come on Metro. Use the little money you have for some real cops that can provide us with some real security”

    Well said!

    The safety & civility concerns of both passengers & drivers need to be tackled before I’ll get back on Metro. Put cops on the buses instead of inside their squad cars!

    1. And add another event to the yearly bus “Roadeo”….trick shooting using the inside and outside mirrors- just like Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill! Two questions, though:

      1. If a bus driver carries a gun “openly”, that would mean somewhere on their right side, where passengers can see it. And grab it while driver’s attention is elsewhere (like the gasoline tanker ahead). What’s the driver going to do about it?

      2. Survey for Metro Tranit operators: How many drivers (or supervisors or base chiefs) at your base would you trust with a firearm?

      Mark Dublin

  18. I know I am late with this, but what will prevent an attacker from reaching in and opening the plexiglass door at the latch?

    Also, if they are installed, I would hope that it is done in such a way as to allow drivers to operate with the doors fully open (and latched fully open).

  19. Only shields that belong aboard buses are located on transit police officers’ uniforms. I think they’re brass.

    Mark Dublin

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