CHOKEPOINTS

Sound Transit CEO on recent violent attacks: It’s ‘my job to restore confidence’ in public transit

May 23, 2024, 5:59 AM

sound transit violent attacks...

A southbound 2 Line train just outside BelRed Station, headed for South Bellevue. (Photo courtesy of wings777 via Flickr)

(Photo courtesy of wings777 via Flickr)

Just how concerned are you about your safety while riding the light rail? Three violent attacks this year, including two homicides, have many people concerned about crime on the trains. Do you know who else is concerned? The head of Sound Transit.

Goran Sparrman knows that no one will ride the trains if they don’t feel safe. Sound Transit’s interim CEO told me that has to change.

“I understand why when you read the newspapers or see on the media the kind of unfortunate incidents we’ve had the last three months with two stabbings, one shooting,” he told KIRO Newsradio. “I totally understand why people made that makes people uncomfortable.”

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And it doesn’t matter to riders or concerned potential riders that, overall, the light rail line is safe.

“I will say that our system actually is, relatively speaking, very safe, but what we recognize is that public reception really does matter,” Sparrman said. “When people don’t feel safe, it’s a big concern to us.”

There have been 44 assaults on light rail this year, including the two homicides and an attempted murder. Sound Transit has more than doubled its security force since 2022, and it plans to add more people to that number.

“We have 500 people working on security alone on the Sound Transit system,” Sparrman said. “My job is to make sure we get the maximum bang for the buck on that and frankly restore the confidence that people feel comfortable and safe using our system.”

With the opening of the new starter line between Bellevue and Redmond, riders have noticed a change in security as well. The Bellevue Police Department is patrolling the trains and several stations with six dedicated officers, including a sergeant. In the first month of operations, Bellevue Police report no problems on the trains or stations. The only issue so far was an officer who noticed a rider with an opened container of cannabis. The officer asked the rider to put it away, which he did.

More on Bellevue public transit: Bellevue to have cops on Eastside light rail trains

That has caught Sparrman’s attention. I asked him if we might see other smaller cities follow suit, adding a few dedicated officers in their jurisdictions.

“We are having conversations with other smaller municipalities, and I envision that the conversation with Lynnwood should hopefully bear fruit,” he said.

Light rail will expand into Lynnwood in August so there is still time to hash that out.

Sparrman also said he’s hoping King County will be able to hire more deputies for his transit police, which is not at full staff.

“The budget has staffing of about 80 or so King County sheriff deputies to patrol our system,” Sparrman said. “Unfortunately, they’ve had some recruitment problems, so we only have 40 to 50 on the ground actually working. So I am looking to have a conversation very soon with the King County Sheriff’s office to make sure what can we do to make sure we’ve filled that up so we get our 90 deputies on the trains where we really want them.”

Since I had the chance to speak with Sparrman, I figured I’d ask him how the new 2-Line is doing. So far so good.

“People seem generally really excited about now having light rail transit as an option on the Eastside and, of course, everyone’s very anxious for us to connect line two across the lake to the 1-Line,” he said. “That’s what we’re planning to do by late 2025, so about a year and a half away, and what we’re hearing is a lot of interest in making sure that happens as quickly as possible.”

More from Chris Sullivan: Seattle’s traffic circles are not roundabouts

Sparrman took over for Julie Timm as the head of Sound Transit in January. His term runs through the end of the year.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints here. You can also follow Chris on X, formerly known as TwitterHead here to follow KIRO Newsradio Traffic’s profile on X.

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Sound Transit CEO on recent violent attacks: It’s ‘my job to restore confidence’ in public transit