As ridership plummets and the union advocates for tougher safety precautions, Metro is following the lead of other agencies and limiting the number of people on a bus.


You may have to wait for the next one if the bus exceeds these limits, although the driver is supposed to take everyone at the stop when he or she does stop, regardless of the limit.

Only one ADA rider is allowed at a time. However, Metro is expanding Access eligibility to make up for it. Vanpools are also capped at 2-3 people.

68 Replies to “Metro introduces passenger limits”

  1. Is Metro requiring passengers to wear masks yet? I’m not getting onto a bus until they do.

      1. By your own link, masks prevent the spread of infection. Medical masks and N95+ respirators are still masks. Lots of people have access to those. During the last heavy forest fire season N95+ masks were on sale.

        Cloth masks vary widely in their usefulness, based on number of layers and how hydrophilic the cloth is. But they are the exceptional masks, not the common ones.

      2. Non-N95 masks don’t protect the wearer from contracting virus from others, but they do protect others from a cough or sneeze by the wearer. While the sneezer will be surrounded by a close cloud containing some virus particles, the vast majority will be “stuck” in the cloth or paper.

        And they certainly won’t be propelled across the room.

      3. @Tim — You drew the wrong conclusion from that study. The study was comparing different masks. It wasn’t comparing a cloth mask versus no mask. It is like the difference between a motorcycle helmet, a bicycle helmet and no helmet. Of course the motorcycle helmet is better, but that doesn’t mean the bicycle helmet is useless.

      4. Ok, thanks. I see that is mostly a 2015 study about cloth vs medical masks. They updated it for COVID. The updated link say cloth masks are better than no masks. And the bulk of the study is about medical personnel, and not about masks preventing the spread, but masks protecting the mask wearer.

        The Journal of the American Medical Association says medical masks, both the regular blue kind, and the N95 (for medical personnel only), prevent the spread of viruses. Even the regular blue medical mask “prevent the wearer from spreading large spray and droplets when coughing or sneezing.”

      5. If wearing a mask was effective at preventing spreading or contracting this virus life would be back to normal save for a mask requirement. Clearly healthcare professionals that understand this situation far more than any of us do realize that’s not effective which is why the social physical distancing orders are still in effect.

      6. If there were enough N95 masks everybody would be using them. But there aren’t enough N95 masks for the medical workers who most need them, so everybody else is using cloth masks because they’re better than nothing.

        When you first said bus drivers should have N95 masks and I said they shouldn’t divert them from hospital workers, there was not a general recommendation for cloth masks, just they observation that they were not very effective. Since then the recommendation has changed for everybody to use cloth masks when out in public, so drivers should have them too. And when there’s a sufficient supply of N95 masks for both medical workers and bus drivers without nurses having to reuse the same one for two weeks, then drivers should be issued N95 masks too.

      7. Most people I see in South King County grocery stores wearing masks are wearing N95+ respirators. They didn’t buy them in the past six months, so they are not the cause of any shortage. They already had them. Current shortages are about the current supply of new masks. You can’t hand an open box of medical masks or a partially used respirator (they are only rated for a certain number of hours of use) to a hospital, or even Meteo/ST. They won’t take them.

  2. Are we headed for a next few months where nonessential businesses start to reopen (with modifications), but public transit remains reserved for essential trips only, due to full buses being fundamentally incompatible with social distancing?

    If so, does this mean we’re headed towards a two-tier system where people with cars get to resume a somewhat normal life, while those without continue what would effectively be shelter-in-place? Thank goodness the bike option still exists as an alternative.

    1. Yeah, it’s unfair only car owners get to risk getting the virus by patronizing nonessential business. Transit users should get that same opportunity!

    2. The Seattle Times did an article about how we’re already in a 2-tier system. People without cars are currently being shut out of some services, such as drive thru covid testing and drive thru stores/restaurants.

      1. This has shown what “essential” businesses still want me to visit them after this has returned to somewhat normal. I don’t own a car, haven’t for quite some time, and have no plans to buy one. Even after something resembling normal returns, things like the cost of ownership, the hassle of driving, and the environmental concerns will all still be there.

        If Starbucks and Wendy’s don’t want me to visit them now, I don’t see why I should bother visiting them later. A whole lot of food businesses have been more than happy to safely serve me takeaway food on bicycle or on foot after getting off a bus (wearing a cloth mask).

      2. This is more of a problem in other states where non-drivers are simply ignored. Washington isn’t that bad so there will probably be some support for walk-up services, but it may not be available for everything or in some areas. When I’ve occasionally in the past been at a drive-in restaraunt I just stood in line like a car and had no problems. But I’ve heard some states have drive-in places that prohibit pedestrians and won’t serve them. King County announced a few covid test sites but the only one that accepts pedestrians is in Rainier Beach. That location was chosen because it has a high concentration of non-drivers, but it means that if I have to have a test and I can’t get it through my doctor I’d have to go from Capitol Hill to Rainier Beach to get it.

      3. If we’re ever going to move towards universal testing, we need to get tests administered at far more places. New York recently announced a plan to conduct testing at every pharmacy in the state. We should be doing something similar.

        But, I was thinking more of the non-essential businesses that might start opening up than COVID tests. Once your business opens up, you’re under pressure to start coming to work. Even if that means braving the buses or waiting half an hour through multiple pass-ups.

        I can certainly understand the need for these measures from a safety perspective. Unfortunately, it’s not good from an equity perspective.

    3. We’re heading toward a potential collision if a significant number of businesses reopen but the buses are limited to 12/18 people and a reduced schedule, and even more so if there aren’t enough drivers. Because it’s patently impossible to go anywhere peak hours without filling the buses. Even the delightful little-used 47 fills up its seats peak hours, and the articulated 11 is standing room only. If you’re going from Capitol Hill to downtown you can walk, but if you’re going five or ten miles you can’t walk. If the businesses reopen it stands to reason that the buses will have to “reopen” proportionally. But they may not, and there may not be enough drivers to do it anyway. Then people without cars may have to continue teleworking or not working, and that may be detrimental to their careers.

      The county needs to avoid backing into a situation that repudiates everything it’s been working on to promote transit use and minimize driving. If it now says, “Transit is useless after all, don’t use it, please drive.”, that throws us back to the 1960. And potentially another half-century of car dependency and limited opportunities for non-drivers. Right at the time that carbon emissions and pollution have become critical and are reaching a tipping point. We didn’t have that in the 60s.

      1. Yeah, this is indeed what I worry about. And it could get worse. Right now, they’re still trying to provide as much service as they can with the drivers they have. Come September, it will time for the inevitable budget-driven service cuts, as all that lost sales tax revenue starts to hit home. There will also be some shifting of resources around, potentially a doubling down on peak service to prevent social distancing from causing passups, at the expense of cutting off-peak service to the bone. Get ready for core routes like the 5 and 62 running every 30 minutes at noon on a Saturday.

        And on top of all this, there’s I-976.

      2. Funny how we haven’t heard about car tabs since covid19 changed the world. I wonder if this changes the political landscape on that at all.

  3. There’s just one flaw in this passenger limit idea. By not enforcing the essential trips-only rule, some essential workers and passengers trying to take essential trips are now watching their bus go by their stop without picking them up because it’s at capacity, at least partially, with non-essential riders.

    “And just what do you consider to be a non-essential rider, Sam?!?”

    I’m glad you asked. I consider a gentleman who drinks from a brown bag, takes a nap, wakes up, sneaks a few more sips from the bag, takes another nap, wakes up, gets off the bus at the terminal, then waits for the same bus to go back the other way to be a non-essential rider.

    1. Thanks for ruining your great point about making essential workers miss their connection to work (when many routes have already been eliminated or pushed back to 30-minute frequency)… by showing your bias and discrimination against people experiencing homelessness.

      1. I never mentioned the homeless or homelessness. My example was a man who likes to drink beer on the bus.

      2. Thinly veiled references are thinly veiled. This plus a casual glance at your post history exposes who you’re actually referring to.

    2. I’m glad that Washington leaves it up to individuals to decide which trips are essential rather than having some rigid formula of permits to ride as some have suggested. Sam’s statement that essential riders are being passed up because non-essential riders are filling the bus, assumes that a large percent of current riders are non-essential. Well, are they? Is there any evidence for this or are you just pulling it out of thin air? Maybe the pass-ups are because there aren’t enough buses for essential trips. I wrote about the 131 southbound Friday with ten people on it. How do I know how many of those are non-essential? You can’t just say, “They’re non-essential; they shouldn’t be on the bus”, unless you know for sure.

      The trip cancellations have mostly been because there aren’t enough drivers; that’s unrelated to the issue of how much essential-trip demand there is. Maybe in a city of 720,000 and a region of 4 million there are 10 essential trips on the 131/132 every 15 minutes, and similarly on the C and E and 11. You can’t just assume there aren’t without studying whether that’s really the case.

      The biggest thing I see in all this is it’s less possible for working-class and poor people to stay at home and not use buses than it is for better-off people. That’s why they’re on buses.

      As to non-destinational homeless people, that’s a separate issue from working-class people just trying to keep their lives together. There have been driver reports of non-destinational homeless riders being most or all of the riders on the night owls. The assertion that they’re also filling buses at all other times I haven’t seen any credible evidence for. That 131 I was talking about, it originated as a 26 or 28. When I got on at Pike Street it was almost empty. That means it either didn’t have many 26/28 riders or they had already gotten off. Northbound when I got off at Union, there was the usual turnover of passengers downtown, not a lot of people riding end-to-end.

      1. Looks like the plural of anecdote and Metro responding to the plural of anecdote. Awful thin on actual data.

      2. No. I’m saying the video focuses on anecdotal complaints by a vocal minority and Metro’s efforts to placate that vocal minority. Note there’s no actual video of homeless individuals causing busses to be overcrowded. Just some images of an overcrowded bus.

      3. The E is Metro’s highest-volume route, on Seattle’s densest highway with many apartment buildings and big-box stores, and is nine miles long. If any route would be overcrowded, this is it. The author thinks a cachement area of probably a hundred thousand people would have only fifty people per hour traveling along it, and he should be one of them? That almost sounds like thinking of the E as your private UberX for you and forty-nine VIPs, and the rest of that cachement area can do without.

        A corollary is that this is the route Metro should have the most extra buses on, because its cachement is so large.

      4. No they couldn’t. Seattle has 11,000 people living on the streets IIRC. The shelters are mostly full. Pandemic converted hotels are few in number, one lacks running water last I heard, and are mostly full. There’s maybe 100 unused shelter beds a night. Maybe. That’s 0.9% of the people living on the streets. At best, on average, that takes maybe 2 homeless off of a late night bus. Maybe. At best.

      5. Every one of the people in those existing shelters has to go there every night unless they allow people to remain there all day. I used to be puzzled by the huge ridership on the 49 in the 8-10pm period: 30 people getting on at 4th & P:ike every fifteen minutes, until one day I had an early morning walk and ended up at the 49 stop at St Mark’s Cathedral. It has a homeless shelter and people took the 49 to it in the evening and left starting with the first southbound 49 at 5am. 10th Avenue East is not a place they can stay in all day so they don’t have to take a bus. There must be other little-known shelters like this around the city. And Aurora has the most low-priced motels. Sometimes people who can’t scrape together enough for first month’s rent and deposit a d a good credit history can afford a hotel, or they get a voucher allowing them to stay in a hotel for a night or a few nights. That would be essential travel since they’re going to their “home”, and their “home” changes frequently.

  4. I wonder if Metro should be taping off or even removing seats. Limiting the number of passengers is good at one level — but it doesn’t assure that social distancing is respected while on a bus.

    1. I don’t see how that would work. Besides the enormous maintenance undertaking of retrofitting and un-retrofitting the entire fleet (it took several days just to install a divider strap near the front of the bus) generally two seats are attached to one piece of metal so it would require a sawzall. Additionally, if two people who are cohabiting living quarters can utilize a pair of seats which theoretically provides more space for everyone to spread out.

      1. You could just use tape, as Al suggested. It would be pretty simple, really. It wouldn’t prevent anyone from using the seat (you could ignore the tape) but it would send a clear message, just like tape in the playgrounds. It would make it much easier for people to figure out how best to space themselves as well. I think it is an excellent idea.

      2. @Dan — Good point. However, my understanding, based on what I’ve read and my (APRN) wife has read, is that this disease is mostly spread through the air. That is one of the reasons why it was so bad in the cruise ships. They have a second rate, recycled air system. In contrast, you are actually safer on an airplane, where they filter the air really well. Opening the windows in the bus is probably one of the better things to do if the bus gets crowded.

        The point being that yes, you can spread the disease by touching a surface — by all means you should be cautious*. But you are far more likely to spread it through the air, especially if you are in close proximity to a person.

        [Caveat — Experts still don’t know that much about this disease, and I know even less. ]

        * I use lightweight fleece gloves every time I leave the house. This discourages me from touching my face after touching anything else. I then rotate the gloves, so that I have a fresh pair every time I leave the house. It is unlikely the virus can last several days on a rough surface (it prefers smooth surfaces). I wash my hands after setting aside my gloves after I get home.

      3. “* I use lightweight fleece gloves every time I leave the house….”

        My spouse and I do something similar. We use our washable garden gloves when doing things outside, including going to the grouped mailboxes. The gloves act as a reminder not to touch our faces and since we are accustomed to wearing them when working out in our yard there’s already that established cognitive conditioning to boot. We have multiple pairs so we just wash and rotate them, as you’ve indicated you do as well. We then wash our hands in the garage before going back inside.

  5. Looks like biking is the only way out of West Seattle now. Hearing reports that “full” buses were skipping stops this morning.

    1. That sucks. Hopefully they will add more runs to compensate. I would imagine there are other routes that have hardly anyone. West Seattle is in a strange situation, where for many residents, transit is significantly faster than driving.

  6. “You may have to wait for the next one if the bus exceeds these limits, although the driver is supposed to take everyone at the stop regardless of the limit.”

    Martin, of all the training average driver lacks, use of the outside PA has topped the charts since the instrument was invented. Would you like to deliver that statement to a zone packed with people who’ve already watched multiple platoons roll by them?

    Does Metro’s operating budget include, at every zone, police with tasers on “Fry?” That paragraph, Martin, just delete and we your readers will agree to call it a typo. Though it does put in a nutshell our establishment’s whole fitness to give Order One and have it obeyed.

    Could somebody belonging to ATU Local 587, preferably the president, please issue a statement regarding language that transfers every driver from being “Essential” to “Dog Meat,” let alone “High Risk?”

    “Squints”, rifle-range instructor once told me to keep both eyes open for whole trigger squeeze. But for Personally Protected Everything, my temper’s just about got its leash chewed through.

    After weeks of scoldings by, one, counter-help calling me a “carrier” and two, mask-suppliers who didn’t have them, a stranger took pity on me and gave me three nice ones. Authority-In-General: Gimme a test or Get Off My Case!

    And Sam, couple of questions. How do you know the bottle wasn’t high quality tonic water…somebody violating Social Distance here to sniff? Also, prove its possessor wasn’t under contract doing ridership and operations observation?

    I did that for Sound Transit for six months when Link first began operations. Got a couple of grievance-related dirty looks from uniformed personnel who liked snitches even less than I do. Though thankfully, word soon got around that my only “write-up” targets were management screw-ups. Reputation Restored. Cooperation, doubled.

    And next question: On a run in from Sea-Tac, how do you know the middle-aged passenger sitting next to you in the business suit costing more than an astronaut’s is not “A” carrying both COVID and rabies he picked up in a tryst in Saudia Arabia, and “B”, headed for the Victoria Clipper to avoid prosecution for, say, willfully starting the opioid epidemic?

    Traditionally, many if not most transit systems insist that all passengers get off at the end of the line and pay fares or show “Proof” before being allowed to re-board. Lets the driver collect both trash and lost objects. No complaints from me.

    But being native-born in a country whose greatest strength is its welcome to people who’ve fled or been thrown out of every so-called “Respectable” land on Earth, your assessment of people less lucky than you, I definitely want thrown in the trash when your train turns around and you have to get off.

    Mark Dublin

  7. “although the driver is supposed to take everyone at the stop when he or she does stop, regardless of the limit.”

    Huh? I know for many stops this will not be an issue given the current ridership levels and the current status of Gov. Inslee’s SHSH order. But, from a practical and public safety perspective, how exactly is a Metro driver expected to manage passenger counts, particularly when approaching an upcoming stop that seems to have multiple riders waiting to board? Are Metro drivers going to start using clickers and doing headcounts on top of all of the other things they are already required to do in order to operate their coaches safely? I ask that question mostly rhetorically, but in all sincerity I would like to understand how this new driver task is supposed to be managed. Sure, experienced bus drivers have a feel for how full their coaches are in normal (pre-Covid) operation of their routes. But this seems to be a very different sort of situation as the “visual capacity assessment” that’s going to be required is going to entail some sort of learning curve.

    1. I accidentally omitted this in my comment above:
      Mark Dublin, I’d love to hear your take. Thanks.

      1. I’ll do the best I can, Tlsgwm. Picturing in my mind my Olympia Food Cooperative service staff in the store aisles and on “door” duty, I’m trying to think what Branch of which Service has best background to handle duty like this.

        By observation and instinct, I’d choose the Washington State Police. Their motto “Service With Humility” resonates my own summation: “Now THAT’S what I call GUTS!”

        Though Evergreen College still owes the whole Force an apology for sending a Heroic Humility contingent in black riot-gear off a 1950’s Martian Invasion movie set to keep a couple of dozen sweet girls (they had warm shawls, and I was wet, old and freezing) and two dozen self-aggrandizing right wing cowards from attacking each other over a dramatized fable alleged to drive white students off campus. Turn Evergreen into a trade school for that!

        But since nobody’s got a guess of an end date for this afternoon’s Emergency, [ON] same [TOPIC] of the national service institution upon which both my country’s longevity and mine depend:

        As part of a comprehensive Swedish-style National Service program to train every single citizen (visitor papers count) to both combat arms and civil service, everybody starts voting-age life trained and able to handle precisely the transit-assist duty Metro’s present plans absolutely require.

        Implementation needs dangerous amount of “Hands On” right now, especially for school-age. But no reason KCM, ST, the State Police, and every other responsible Responder can discuss online any time.

        Best I can do.

        Mark Dublin

    2. As I understood the announcement, the driver should stop if the existing number of people on the bus is below the limit, and should let everybody on that stop on. Then at the next stop since it’s over the limit they wouldn’t stop. If anyone is getting off, the bus will stop to let them off. I think it will also let everybody on at that time. So the driver needs to count up to 12 or 18, and add one or two as people trickle on.

      1. Do you think this is a feasible practice for driver’s on busy routes, such as the D & E lines or #7? When people are constantly stepping on and off through multiple doors, will the driver actually get out of the seat and count throughout the route?

  8. Today I was passed by three 8 buses that had exceeded passenger safety. When I arrived at Capitol Hill link , the train was late and I had to wait 26 minutes for a train. Door to door my trip took almost two and a half hours. Welcome to the rest of 2020 transit experience!

    1. This is how the “essential trips only” is enforced. If you make it miserable enough, no one making a non-essential trip will put up with it. And those with other options will choose other options.

      How far were you going? Was the destination within a 2 1/2 hour walk?

    2. Bike commuting is looking more attractive every day, especially as the weather gets better.

  9. While the passenger caps are frustrating, it’s important to remember that our case count is still pretty elevated and new cases haven’t dropped that quickly. Once testing ramps up, though (and I really wish it had happened weeks ago), that might change. If we’re at a point when we only have a handful or dozen of known cases in the state, maybe we could start running fuller buses if people were required to wear masks.

    1. The number of new cases in King Co. appears to have peaked but it’s not clear it’s trending down rather than just shifting from 150 new cases every day to ~100. Those 100 positive cases have already transmitted the disease; the question is to whom? Our hit rate is hovering around 3% positive test results for Covid19. A 10X increase in testing isn’t going to catch significantly more positive cases because the hit rate drops precipitously as you loosen the standards for who gets tested.

      The real key is what you do with the positive results; namely, tracking which is what made S. Korea so successful. With public transit being fare free there is no way to track who’s been exposed. Even if you ask the person testing positive what bus they were on and they say they only took one bus and they are telling the truth. With a fare free system you have no idea who was on the bus. If you put out the info that John Doe tested positive and rode the 249 on 04/xx there’s no way to know if everyone who rode that bus gets the memo. And even if they do and report as such you then fan out the exposure to every other route they may have taken. And as soon as any one person used a major transit center to transfer… game over. At least with Uber/Lyft the software has contact info for everyone that rode in a vehicle that was used by a Covid19 positive person.

  10. This is a neat idea but I don’t think it’s practical for larger transit systems. Based on this policy, routes like the E-line and the #7 would start passing people after serving only the first six or seven stops. To ensure all riders are actually picked up, extra coaches would be needed.. which would then defeat the purpose of a reduced schedule.

    1. The problem is we don’t have enough drivers for those extra coaches. The service reductions at this point are primarily being driven by number of drivers, or lack thereof. So it’s less about if it’s internally consistent or practical and more the best we can pull off right now.

      1. It would be cool if we had some sort of technology that only required one driver and you could just, like, attach extra units to the transit vehicle. Like some kind of coupled, unitized, transit? Oh, and it would run on electricity. That would be cool.

  11. K5 video, not my favorite reading matter, but signage on that bus, “Waitaminute” to the twentieth power. “Essential Rides Only?” Essential to whom? And even touchier….DETERMINED AND ENFORCED BY JUST EXACTLY WHOM?

    You make this the driver’s call, you’re going to get some drivers HURT! What in the HELL is Metro thinking? In this month’s Atlantic, George Gilder calls down our country for being a Failed Nation! His definition, Truth itself: “A cruel economy, a corrupt political class, a SCLEROTIC bureaucracy!” Like medical definition of sclerosis, an asbestos net for a nervous system.

    Drivers are leaving West Seattle passengers standing? How fast does Metro have to move to charter everything on the Sound that can one, float, and two, carry five passengers? For any transit agency that wants to live, only safe seat for leadership is at the controls with one hand on the steering and the other on the throttle for the fan.

    Claudia, I’d appreciate a response, and Martin, please tell me what I need to do to help you put Seattle Transit Blog at the helm of this particular hydrofoil. Whether headway’s 34 minutes or fifteen seconds, transit as a whole has got to get out front of its own present condition.

    Mark Dublin

    1. It’s a reminder about the state policy, not Metro being police. It’s like the traffic displays saying “Wash your hands”.

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