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    Bus drivers need bathroom breaks too

    To lessen service cuts, King County Metro reduced guaranteed rest times, leaving drivers crossing their legs.

    Metro coaches will grow more crowded as the first scheduled cutbacks take place at September’s end. This follows the April defeat of a county ballot initiative that would have increased sales taxes and car tab fees to help pay for roads and bus services. At near-peak overall ridership, Metro will shelve 28 routes, as it tries “to match service levels with revenues coming in,” said Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer. Seattle voters in November will consider a ballot measure imposing an annual $60 vehicle fee and a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to help fund transit.

    Meanwhile, Metro drivers’ Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 587, is scheduled to vote September 10th on its latest contract proposal, with working conditions among the top concerns. In 2009, a Metro audit called for reducing layovers at the ends of routes before return trips, in order to lessen service cuts. That meant turnaround times — used for bathroom breaks — in some cases shrunk to five minutes or less.

    Said retired Metro driver Jay Hamilton, “We were not being used properly because our breaks were too long, which was great if you were a machine, not so great if you weren’t.”

    If the bus is running even slightly behind schedule, “You can either go to the bathroom and be late for your next trip — with the possibility of customers complaining or supervisors saying, ‘How come you left late for your last trip?’” said Michael Spence, a retired Metro driver and author of a new book of poetry set onboard Metro coaches. 

    “It’s a safety thing,” Spence added. “Do you want people driving a thousand pound vehicle through traffic and be constantly worried” about emptying their bladders?

    I spoke with Metro driver Hal Poor on a recent Saturday afternoon while he was on a break, waiting to use a Metro restroom. “There’s one bathroom for 15 buses and everyone is taking their turn,” said Poor, a former ATU shop steward. “This is a weekend. On weekdays, it’s even worse.”

    Neal Safrin, vice president and assistant business representative and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 said there are very few, if any, rest stops used by Metro drivers that contain more than two bathrooms.

    “No question, working conditions since the audit went downhill,” said Safrin. The 2010 contract guaranteed a minimum five- minute break between runs. “Guaranteed breaks have been significantly increased in the current proposal,” Safrin said, declining to offer specifics.

    Safrin urged members to approve the contract. “The great majority of gains in 100 years (of ATU’s existence) are preserved by this tentative agreement. If we go to interest arbitration, much of the bedrock of the contract will be at risk,” he said.

    Meanwhile, the state Department of Labor and Industries has launched an “open inspection” regarding Metro driver access to restrooms, following a complaint it received, said Tim Church, department spokesman. Bus drivers are being questioned and state rules and guidelines examined.

    Asked for comment, Metro spokesperson Switzer said, "We actively monitor and manage our comfort station program to ensure that bus operators have access to clean and convenient facilities. We’re cooperating with L&I on this issue and will make improvements where needed."

    The Department of Labor and Industries has until November 30 — six months from the inspection’s inception — to complete its findings. It could either determine the original complaint lacks validity, or cite Metro for violations, with fines attached.

    Laura Kaufman is a freelance writer who has covered everything from politics and business to toxic waste and labor. Early in her career, she was kidnapped by a marching kazoo band. She still enjoys discovering quirky features hiding in plain sight. Contact her at lkaufman@earthlink.net, and follow her on twitter @lolkaufman.

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    Posted Wed, Sep 3, 7:09 a.m. Inappropriate

    Seattle voters in November will consider a ballot measure imposing an annual $60 vehicle fee and a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to help fund transit.

    Where have we seen this before (Seattle taxing residents and turning over the money to Metro managers)? Oh yeah . . . the city council put a tax hike vote up on the ballot in 2006 it called “Bridging the Gap”. Part of what it supposedly would do is this:

    “Secure up to 45,000 hours of new Metro Transit service.”


    That tax revenue diversion scheme has been going on for several years. It is the model for the tax revenue diversion scheme the city council is going to put on the ballot in November.

    What have Metro's managers done with that money? Paid transit advocates posting under a host of screen names fill Crosscut's comment threads. Let's see what they're willing to share on THAT subject . . ..

    Anyone want to try arguing this tax revenue diversion scheme has been working out great? Obviously it was set up so all accountability and transparency would go out the window.

    Has that "Bridging the Gap" tax revenue diversion process been successful? Here are some of the questions about it:

    -- how much of the "Bridging the Gap" tax revenue has been handed over by city employees to Metro;

    -- what has Metro done with all that property tax revenue (which additional bus trips - routes and times - were purchased with that money); and

    -- what safeguards does Metro have in place to ensure that that new money from Seattle property owners increased Seattle-only service and was not considered when service plans for non-Seattle parts of the county were drawn up? The obvious concern is that Metro just used that new money to pay for its overhead and bump up additional service levels east of Lake Washington.

    Go ahead flacks: address the issues above, and provide URLs to pages at the city's websites and at Metro's websites that might show the city council can implement tax revenue diversion schemes in an open, transparent manner that ends up benefiting more than a handful of the "little people" it is targeting with the new taxes. You want votes on the measure in November, right? Show everybody how well the “Seattle Process” is working with the Bridging the Gap tax revenue diversions.

    Anyone want to try doing that? Here's a hint: you can't. THAT is why this scam the city council is putting on the November ballot is set up the way it is. Nobody will be able to verify what happened to all that new money either. It will disappear into Metro's general spending plans, the existing heavy regressive taxing will be used to increase Bellevue/Kirkland/Redmond bus service over current plans, and systemwide management expenses will be covered by the new Seattle-only taxing.


    Posted Wed, Sep 3, 1:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    "The City of Seattle’s Bridging the Gap and King County Metro’s Transit Now initiatives purchase increased bus service in Seattle. Many buses were added to Metro routes 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 14, 26, 28, and 44 in September 2008. Additional improvements followed on September 19, 2009 with more coming in September 2010."

    "Bridging the Gap provides funding for street improvements focused on increasing the speed of bus travel in key corridors that carry very high concentrations of transit trips and connect Seattle’s Urban Villages throughout the City. Design and construction of improvements is already underway in four corridors around the City: Rainier Ave. S., West Seattle, Ballard-Uptown, and NW Market and 45th Streets."

    " These are investments in strategic locations to keep transit moving and significantly improve Seattle’s transit environment. These projects are drawn from areas identified as transit choke points and opportunities in heavily used transit corridors."


    Posted Thu, Sep 4, 10:40 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thank you for pointing out just how easy it is to find some of this information if one actually wants to take the time to look for it... or even just show up at a public meeting and ask the right people. It demonstrates how much folks like crossrip just prefer to spout off about things without knowing what the hell they're talking about.


    Posted Thu, Sep 4, 2:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    What I do not understand is that King County is telling the drivers and Local 587 that the lay overs are reduced to save money, yet the Base Chief of Local 17 have been offered a 2% pay increase, a signing bonus, King County is going to offer a Low Income Fare in March of 2015 which is costing them more revenue.

    Now they want Local 587 to wait 3 years for a COLA,

    Posted Thu, Sep 11, 7:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    It is amazing to me that communities that say they want bus service either fail to provide restrooms/make provisions for restrooms and sometimes take restrooms away from the transit agencies. IMO, a transit agency should refuse to provide bus service to a community where there aren't restrooms provided for the drivers.


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