Rantz: Does King County Metro turn a blind eye to traffic violations?

Aug 16, 2017, 6:58 AM | Updated: 9:01 am
King County Metro...
(Jason Rantz/KIRO Radio)
(Jason Rantz/KIRO Radio)

As local law enforcement agencies have been commanded to crack down on drivers safely texting their loved ones that they’ll be late to dinner because they’re stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, King County Metro bus drivers continue to ignore basic traffic laws, putting those around them in danger. But this is not about Metro; it’s about the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Related: Metro’s illegal, dangerous driving part of bigger problem

Yet again, on a walk, a Metro driver made a left turn when there was no room to accommodate the bus near the Mercer Mess. Consequently, the majority of the bus lingered in the intersection, blocking traffic and causing further delays.

This kind of driving happens regularly and it’s dangerous. But is it systemic? Is the pressure so high for drivers to drive their route on time that they have to commit these actions in order to keep their bosses happy? After all, as I’ve explained, I don’t necessarily fault them for driving this way; Seattle transportation planning doesn’t aim to service drivers, so the only way to even get past an intersection during the commute is to block the intersection. You’re all forced to bend or break traffic laws, otherwise, you’ll be stuck for an hour.

King County Metro tells me no; that this driving behavior isn’t encouraged or permitted.

“Drivers are instructed to obey all traffic laws,” Metro’s Jeff Switzer emailed me. “Our training is focused on safety, not schedule. Drivers can and do sit through multiple traffic lights when an area is gridlocked.”

Metro is in a tough spot. There’s no doubt that the training tells drivers to obey traffic laws. But, if the drivers did, buses would be even more consistently late than they already are and if you’re perpetually behind schedule, I can’t imagine that bodes well for the driver. And if bus drivers are perpetually stuck in traffic, due to poor management, it would be rightfully blamed on the Seattle Department of Transportation and their purposeful efforts to ignore the reality that people use cars to get around. Metro doesn’t want to do that to SDOT. Their partners in this because the harder it is for car drivers, the thinking goes, it’s better for Metro because the driver will ditch the car for the bus.

So what are we to do here? This isn’t about Metro but we’re going to have to use their traffic violations to make things flow smoother. We are all better served by a transportation department that accommodates drivers, along with bus riders, pedestrians, and bicyclists. The situation on and around the Mercer Mess is untenable and infuriating. Let’s use SDOT’s love of buses against them and enact some change.

Here’s what to do: file a complaint. It takes less than a minute.

Switzer provided to me the easy way to file your complaint, along with some tips (and kudos to him: despite me being a pain in his backside, he’s always responding to me): “Contact Metro customer service via phone or web form, detailing as best as possible the time, location, direction and four-digit coach number so we can identify the operator. 206-553-3000 or http://metro.kingcounty.gov/cs/index.html.”

Every time you see a Metro driver commit a traffic violation, document it safely, then submit your complaints here. Why? Because these complaints become part of the public record. Because Metro is unwilling to throw SDOT under the bus (pun intended) and admit how bad the traffic management is, we’ll let these complaints get on the record and force Metro to respond to their behavior.

Consequently, the bus drivers will change their behaviors because now they know they’re being watched. What’s that mean? They’re slower on their routes, which will hopefully force Metro to confront SDOT about signal synchronization issues and poor traffic management. Some of you might think SDOT will make changes that will solely benefit the bus drivers. It doesn’t work that way. In the cases I’ve documented, they’re turning onto bus-only lanes. As these cases indicate, changes that ignore drivers to the sole benefit of other modes of transportation end up making traffic worse for everyone.

So start documenting and complaining.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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Rantz: Does King County Metro turn a blind eye to traffic violations?