‘Friendliest bus driver in Seattle’ details concerns as transit grapples with safety

Mar 31, 2020, 12:19 PM

coronavirus, bus...

Larry Bowles, an equipment service worker for King County Metro, sprays Virex II 256, a disinfectant, throughout a metro bus. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

King County Metro has made a number of services changes during the coronavirus response, including not requiring fare, asking all able passengers to board through the rear doors, and putting up a barrier around the bus driver. After seeing at least a 50 percent decline in ridership, Metro announced it would reduce service on some of its routes.

King County Metro to start cleaning buses daily to limit coronavirus spread

Nathan Voss, perhaps better known as Seattle’s friendliest bus driver, told Seattle Morning News that ridership is significantly down on his No. 7 route.

“In my anecdotal experience, I’m getting a lot of what I call ‘non-destination passengers,’ basically folks without housing who ride back and forth, and I would say around 80 percent or so of my entire ridership now is non-destination passengers,” Voss said.

Voss said he is not transporting the essential workers who are going to their jobs.

“I’m mostly moving people back and forth who are vulnerable, who are high-risk, who don’t have access to resources, often mentally unstable, with different levels of awareness and hygiene,” he added.

While he admitted he’s used to seeing this kind of ridership at odd hours of the night, it’s concerning when it’s the case all day long.

“It puts me in an awkward position because anyone who’s read my book or blog or been on my bus for longer than five minutes knows I love serving these guys,” he said. “I like being out here. However, transit is just unavoidably a vehicle for spreading contagions.”

All of the safety measures in place, Voss said, only go so far.

“[None] of them address the fact that we’re in the business of moving people, rotating groups of people around in enclosed spaces while touching the same surfaces over and over again,” he said. “We’re literally allowing people to mix and mingle during a pandemic.”

Voss does see compelling reasons to keep transit alive.

“But if we’re going to take every measure to stop this virus, it becomes this question of do we take draconian measures that limit freedoms for a short time, or do we take less extreme measures that then have to last a lot longer?” Voss asked. “That’s a tough question.”

Voss said that since most of the riders are non-destination passengers, it makes it less attractive for those with destinations. The stay-at-home order from Gov. Jay Inslee is what made the shift, where before transit was helping people get to work, and now the necessity is a bit more arguable.

He said he will continue to drive, at least for the time being.

“I’m starting to get concerned about, you know, I’m coming home and helping my family,” Voss said. ” … I’m exposing myself to people, and it’s really weird to think that I don’t have the virus or I’m not carrying he virus after the amount of exposure I have.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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