Seattle’s transit system has become unusable since reports of toxic fentanyl and meth smoke, volatile behavior, and dangerous work environments have scared off travelers, according to authorities.
King County Metro Transit workers filed 398 security incident reports regarding drug use in 2021, compared to 73 in 2020 and just 44 in 2019. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, representing over 4,000 King County Metro Transit workers, said the public transportation system needs stronger enforcement to deal with the growing numbers of drug users.
Police officers have been punched, spat on, and threatened while also dealing with the growing problem of drug smoke from fentanyl. Narcotic smoking complaints spiked last summer, surpassing those of needles and marijuana.
The city plans to release a new Safety, Security, and Fare Enforcement Initiative in February. The plan aims to improve the dangerous environment on transit while showing compassion, especially to homeless people.
The plan is “a necessary step on its journey to becoming an anti-racist mobility agency,” according to the King County website.
Unarmed Security monitors the metro but has no authority to arrest or remove people from public transportation. The transit vehicles are not regularly patrolled by law enforcement and illegal drug use is considered a “lower priority than violent crime,” Seattle Police Detective Patrick Michaud said.
The union representing the group of transit workers endorsed Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s mayor, who ran as a law and order candidate but has not been successful in dealing with the growing crime and drug use in the city. Since the summer of 2021, six transit operators had to stop driving mid-shift, while 14 reported headaches, dizziness, or irritated breathing.
“It smells like burnt peanut butter, mixed with brake fluid,” King County Metro Transit operator Erik Christensen said.
Seattle’s transit use rose about 50% in the 2010s, the highest rate of any U.S. city. About 750,000 people used the transit system on a daily basis prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re after the criminal activity, the smoking drugs, the assaults, the deterioration of transit,” Local 587 Vice President Cory Rigtrup said. “The solution is to restore transit, make it welcoming, bring back passengers.
“Hopefully we’ll be putting some things in place, where you’ll see more police on a coach,” White said, adding the city also plans to implement updated outreach programs for the homeless.
Crime has surged in Seattle, with a 46% increase in shootings in 2020, according to an annual report by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. A massive gunfight broke out on Feb. 7 in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood with over 40 shots fired.
A group of men kicked and punched a 23-year-old man and left him unconscious on Jan. 25, amid a string of violent assaults and robberies. Police also found a man near a homeless encampment on Jan 20. with a crossbow in his chest.