This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

There was a debate over at Seattle Transit Blog a while ago about whether acrylic barriers make any sense for King County Metro right now.  The general consensus was that they’re expensive and do more harm than good.  That being said, I’ve seen them (or maybe the same one?) frequently on one of the buses I ride and today was the first time I’ve seen it actually used.  Normally the door is locked open, in seeming defiance of the driver being placed in a little plastic box. 

This bus, the 2X, is often one of the more lively buses I take.  Almost all of the drivers are friendly, and one even announces daily trivia as he drives, to entertain those without books or iPods.  But I watched the driver today (admittedly new to this route, or I haven’t seen her before) and the only word I heard her say was a “goodbye” in response to the lone “thank you” as a passenger exited.  Normally there are dozens of “thank you”s and “good morning”s, if not more interesting chatter.  Is this the fault of the plastic barrier?  We’ll probably need a sample size larger than one to find out, but it certainly didn’t feel as friendly.

Regarding safety, I’m not sure this route requires a plastic barrier to feel safe.  Around 70% of the riders onboard were attractive young women in summer clothing (single guys should seriously consider moving to Queen Anne and taking the bus), and almost all were business commuters.  If these are the mean streets that we’re trying to protect drivers from, then Seattle is the most gentle city on the planet.