King County Metro recently issued an online survey pertaining to potential changes to Night Owl Service. These changes would be a temporary response to Covid-19 and create a free reservation system for 1am to 5am service. The agency would provide interpreter and TTY (Deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired) services.

Metro said the proposal is a response to feedback from riders, many of whom are essential workers, who were unable to board their desired bus due to physical distancing capacity limits. Operators are allowed to pass bus stops when they hit the limits, 12 passengers for a 40-foot bus and 18 for a 60-foot bus.

Missing a bus during a period of infrequent service is unacceptable for our region’s essential workers. King County Metro is trying to ensure enough space to support essential trips during their Night Owl Service. A reservation system could be a solution for King Count’s technology-abled essential workers.

While the suggestion has positive intentions, I am concerned by potential inequities of a reservation system. Access to a phone and phone service are likely requirements to access a reservation system. Those requirements may put Night Owl Service out of reach of our homeless people and other disadvantaged populations.

Information barriers may also disadvantage those communities. For one, they may not be aware of a potential change if it occurs. Signage may not be visible during Night Owl Service times, so anyone unaware of the change may miss critical bus service.

Additionally, if King County Metro is only using this online survey, I’m concerned they may get an unrepresentative sample of their ridership. Internet access is even more inaccessible than phone service.

Overall, this is a case of public health policy getting in the way of our transit-inclined essential workers. I’m nervous about potential changes that may end up further disadvantaged underprivileged peoples during a public health crisis. King County Metro is trying to balance reduced schedules with the demand for its service.

Where can homeless people safely shelter if not the bus given overcrowding at overnight shelters and years of inadequate response to the homelessness crisis–not to mention victim-blaming. It’s far from an ideal situation, but until the regional authorities offer a viable alternative to serve homeless folks, what other recourse do we have?

If you plan on filling out the survey to voice your concerns, keep our less well-off neighbors in mind as well. The survey will be open for comment through May 31, 2020.

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider subscribing or donating. The Urbanist is a non-profit that depends on donations from readers like you.

Shaun Kuo is a junior reporter at The Urbanist and a recent graduate from the UW's Jackson School. He is a Seattle native that has lived in Wallingford, Northgate, and Lake Forest Park. He enjoys exploring the city by bus and foot.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I second the above comment that our public transportation is not intended to be a rolling homeless shelter. Metro is having to look at other alternatives to get the actual working class folks to and from their places of work. With limited seating available on all buses, the homeless take shelter right as the bus starts it’s route if not before, riding/camped out for hours, and this leaves no empty seats for those needing to make ESSENTIAL trips. Some of these folks are living paycheck to paycheck and often times, for them to have to call an UBER or Lyft to get to work, the expense is outrageous considering that the bus is full of people that aren’t riding for an essential means and most likely if fares weren’t being waved at this time, they’d be riding for free anyway.

  2. As a bus driver during these times, it’s important to acknowledge that busses ARE NOT shelters. It’s not Metro’s responsibility to be the Seattle’s response to lack of services for the houseless.

    • I agree that buses shouldn’t be shelters, but they have become temporary shelter for some homeless. It just don’t sit well with me that during a public health crisis, a vulnerable population maybe lose shelter. I’m not condoning the practice, just worried that I know little is available to replace it.

      Also, thank you for putting yourself at an elevated risk during this crisis and for being bus driver in the first place.

Comments are closed.