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A Case for Not Riding the Bus

Right before COVID-19 hit, I rode the bus with less and less frequency. But in early 2020, a dramatic experience on a city bus was the final straw. I have a car as alternate transportation or can hire an Uber -- but that's beside the point. I don't enjoy aspects of being a passenger on a Metro bus -- and I am not an elitist by any stretch of the imagination. Riding a city bus can be downright unsettling.

What's turned me off? Wouldn't it be easier for me to have someone else drive? In an ideal world, yes. But it's a big NO in capitals when every single time I'd gotten on a Metro Bus in the past few years there have been threatening outbursts from other passengers (not directed at me, but at the entire bus), messy and dirty seats you just don't want to sit on, the odor of cannabis or meth wafting through the air (don't want to inhale it), fentanyl shot up in the seat behind you or body odor and other smells so bad you are gasping for air.

I am genuinely sorry for folks who do not have access to showers. More must be done to mitigate the pervasive and sad homelessness all around the city. Lack of mental health treatment and addiction services, adequate transitional housing and affordable rents are all factors that play into why people remain unsheltered. Ways to protect people riding the buses who are going to work or just going about everyday business have to be ramped up. 

The final time, and I do mean the very last time I took a bus downtown, a poorly dressed woman around 50 who did not seem well to me, stood up in the back yelling that she had a gun and was going to take out all the passengers; not very uplifting to hear when I was trying to get to an appointment. The driver seemed scared and at loose ends on what to do.

A very sharp and well-dressed younger guy close to where she was raging, stood up and told her, in an aggressive tone, "Will you sit the F&@# down and shut the F*#$ up!?!" It worked. She sat down meekly until we hit the underground tunnel, and SPD met her there to escort her off after the driver called the incident in -- a sad situation indeed.

She never had a firearm, and the other passenger was astute enough to assess things correctly. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and I hope the woman gets the help she needs. But I do not want to be exposed to stuff like this. It's happened before on the bus and it tends to make me edgy. In a very troubled world, I love practicing yoga to keep balanced, and stuff like this will inevitably throw you off. I use avoidance as a coping technique.

I am not the only one. American Public Transportation Association reported that King County Metro ridership is down by 58% pre-pandemic, according to a feature in Axios.Seattle. The data compared the number of passengers in September of 2019 to numbers in September of 2023. This is bad news for people without cars because lower revenues equals fewer routes. 

Ideally, riding a bus helps the environment. Less cars on the road make for less carbon emissions. I would like to be a part of those environmentally friendly consumers, but my nerves cannot take being confined on a bus where there's bound to be some kind of drama. Breathing in drug fumes is a direct hit on the throat, lungs and overall health and is potentially very dangerous. You could be allergic to cannabis, meth or another recreational or illegal drug and not know it. Metro is also experiencing staffing shortages -- making it tougher to keep operations up to snuff. 

King County Metro has made valiant efforts to improve services but it's not enough to retain riders in an environment where passengers have to wonder if they will safely make it to their destination. One solution was to put more security guards on buses and transit stations in 2021. It was worth a try but not enough of a fix because ridership remains low. Despite the company's best efforts, passengers no longer feel secure. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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