Two fare enforcement officers work their way toward the front of a bus after checking a few riders proof of payment.
Fare enforcement officers were clapping down on fare evaders in fall 2019. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

King County Metro has announced plans to increase security onboard buses and at transit facilities this fall. The agency is bringing on dozens of new transit security officers (TSOs) in an effort aimed at enhancing safety and security across the transit system.

With the backdrop of a year-long racial reckoning, Metro began the Safety, Security, and Fare Enforcement (SaFE) reform initiative to critically evaluate policies and practices and redesign how safety, security, and fare enforcement operates. Since its adoption in May, the initiative has already directly reached over 5,600 people who shared their views on how Metro could make them feel safer when using the system.

“My colleagues, alongside community members who are serving on an initiative equity team, are carefully reviewing all of the feedback and recommendations that were thoughtfully provided by the many respondents,” Metro’s General Manager Terry White wrote in a blogpost. “We’ll soon publish the findings and takeaways, and will use them to invite you to help us develop recommendations for providing you with a safer and more equitable transit experience.”

White also touched on racial impacts that enforcement systems have had on communities of color.

“At Metro, we acknowledge the historic negative relationship of law enforcement with many of our Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community members,” he wrote. “[W]e are committed to centering equity, public safety, and the voices of those most impacted by systemic racism in all of our work.”

Metro plans to bring on another 54 TSOs who will be deployed throughout the system “to assist our passengers and operators,” the agency told The Urbanist. They’ll be joining the 25 TSOs already serving the public. Metro says that TSOs will be allocated as follows:

  • “36 TSOs for on-coach deployment.”
  • “Six TSOs who will be part of a 12-month pilot program to improve response times when Metro’s first-line supervisors request support.”
  • “Twelve TSOs who will be part of a different 12-month pilot program at Aurora Village Transit Center and at Burien Transit Center. In addition to other duties, these staff members will provide support to our bus operators using these transit centers.”

In deploying these transit security officers, Metro will measure how new practices are implemented for any impacts to riders. That could ultimately result in further changes as the SaFE initiative unfolds over the next year.

The TSO program is provided under contract with Securitas. Expanding the program is going to take a few more months though as Securitas still needs to fill positions. “With recruitment and training, it will take time to get them aboard coaches,” Metro’s Al Sanders said. “As early as October, the frequency in which riders will see Transit Security Officers should increase as the positions get filled and the intent is to have all the new officers out on coaches in November.”

Sanders stressed that “TSOs are not replacing Transit Police.” Instead, TSOs will be rotating throughout the bus system and randomly board coaches. “Security Officers do not get dispatched to emergent events, which will still fall under the responsibility of Metro’s Service Quality Supervisors and Metro Transit Police,” he said. “If an incident does occur on a coach they are riding, the TSOs will react appropriately to ensure the safety of the riders and employees, while other resources are called in to assist if necessary.”

In summarizing the responsibilities and practices of TSOs, Sanders said that “their presence is to deter unlawful transit conduct — as defined by Metro’s Code of Conduct — and disruptive behavior on coaches and address security issues on coaches they board or are riding on.” He also added that TSOs will “be promoting the use of masks while on transit and assist riders/operators with general customer service inquiries.”

Article Author

Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.