Keeping our trolleys safe and reliable

By Grantley Martelly, Manager of Transit Safety and Security


Chris Parrott, Superintendent of Metro Transit Vehicle Maintenance

King County Metro operates the nation’s second-largest trolley fleet, and we are committed to preserving our long safety record, for our customers and our employees. Last year we introduced our first new trolley buses in 30 years.

It is not unusual for a new fleet to come with unexpected challenges. Metro has experienced two issues with the New Flyer trolley fleet. One is a mechanical problem that causes the trolley poles to disconnect unexpectedly, temporarily cutting off electric power to the bus. Secondly, there were two incidents in which mechanics received an electric shock while performing routine inspections beneath these coaches at the bus base.

At no time were passengers on these buses at risk. Metro has since taken steps to improve training and workplace safety for vehicle maintenance staff in response to these incidents.

As for the dewirements, we expect to retrofit the entire fleet with stronger springs in the next two months, along with a software update.


Pictured: A Metro 40-foot New Flyer trolley bus.

Trolley poles dewiring

Customers on our trolley routes may have noticed the poles increasingly disconnecting from the overhead wire while the bus is in motion. While this happens occasionally every day with our older trolley buses, it became increasingly frequent for drivers on the newer trolleys a few months after they began service – sometimes as many as 20 times in one day. Routes 3, 7, and 70 have seen some of the most dewirements.

In spring 2016, Metro notified the manufacturer, New Flyer, and the trolley pole system manufacturer, Vossloh-Kiepe, asking them to identify solutions to the problem.

After testing the manufacturer’s solutions, we began implementing two fixes for these problems and we are already seeing improvements.

First, we addressed a software issue that made it more likely for poles to disconnect. Testing and observation revealed the system was programmed in a way that made it overly-sensitive, causing the poles to automatically retract unnecessarily if the bus traveled outside a certain range from the wires, or hit potholes or an uneven road surface. Under the warranty, the manufacturer provided us with a software update that is better calibrated to our environment, and we recently installed it. We are already seeing improvements.

Secondly, each trolley pole system is equipped with a set of four industrial strength springs, which hold the poles up against the overhead electric wires. Over time, we could see that the original springs on these new coaches were unable to maintain enough pressure to keep the poles in place on the wires, and the poles would intermittently disconnect. Under warranty, the manufacturer tested stronger springs, and they appeared perform satisfactorily during testing.


Metro is installing new springs on our trolley pole systems to fix a problem with the poles dewiring.

Yesterday, Oct. 26, Metro received the first major shipment of new springs from the manufacturer, and our staff is working to install them. Depending on the pace of shipments from the manufacturer and continued good performance, we expect to retrofit our entire fleet by the end of the year.

Electrical shocks under the bus on two occasions

On May 9, a mechanic inspecting one of the trolley buses leaned against a metal rail while opening a valve underneath the bus, which subjected him to a charge of 300 volts, according to a preliminary report. The trolley’s power system was connected to overhead wires at the time. It is unclear how many amps – the rate of flow of the electric charge – to which he was exposed. The mechanic received medical attention prior to returning to work.

During our internal safety investigation, it was discovered the “hot coach detector” had been disconnected on this one bus at the time of this incident. Our trolleys are equipped with these detectors, which are designed to alert operators or maintenance staff if stray electric current is present anywhere on the bus. If a hot coach incident happens while the bus is in service, the detector automatically disconnects and retracts the power poles and shuts off power to the bus. Passengers were in no danger of coming in contact with stray electric current thanks to the design of these fiberglass-shell coaches, where all metal components inside the bus are isolated from metal where stray current could go. Other components outside the bus, like bike racks and ramp lifts, also are isolated from any possible stray electric current to protect the public.

After this incident, our fleet engineers immediately inspected Metro’s entire new trolley fleet and confirmed that hot coach detectors were functioning in all other buses. Metro worked with the manufacturer to install a software update across the entire new trolley fleet so that an additional warning is triggered if the hot coach detector becomes disabled.

On August 31, a second mechanic received an electric shock while inspecting a different bus from underneath. That mechanic also opened a valve and touched a steel beam when the shock – estimated at 25 volts – occurred. According to our preliminary investigation, the hot coach detector was working properly but the employee did not check it prior to performing maintenance.

Metro has since taken steps to improve training and workplace safety for vehicle maintenance staff in response to these incidents. You can find out more about that plan online. We are detailing these actions in a response to the state Department of Labor and Industries, which investigated one of the incidents and fined Metro $10,800 for two safety violations related to training and documentation. We report to L&I prior to a Nov. 1 deadline on how we have remedied the violations.

These were isolated incidents. Metro has no record of any passengers or customers ever being shocked while on a bus. No passengers reported being shocked before or after either of the hot coach incidents. None of our operators reported a problem with this bus. In addition, Metro operators are trained on safety procedures in the event of a hot coach incident while the bus is in service to ensure the public is never at risk.

As of October 14, Metro has put 152 of 174 new trolleys into service. These are state-of-the-art trolleys, a mix of 40- and 60-foot-long buses, equipped with low floors for easy boarding, air conditioning and backup battery power for traveling off-wire.

Metro has safely operated electric trolleys for a total of more than 40 years, and we are committed to keeping safe and reliable transit service as our top priority.



Metro pausing removal of two Alaska Junction bus shelters

The King County Metro transit facility at Alaska Junction is incredibly important to our customers and to the functioning of the transit network in West Seattle.

Due to the attention possible changes have received over the weekend, Metro is willing to push “pause” on the shelter removal and actively solicit feedback before finalizing the shelter removal plan.

New information will be posted at the shelters within the next couple days and will provide the appropriate contact information.  We also read the West Seattle Blog and other forums and will compile comments along with all other feedback we receive.

But Metro would also like to take a moment to clarify the proposal to reduce the number of shelters on SW Alaska Street at the Junction.  The Alaska Junction transit facility consists of six individual bus stops or “Bays”.  Bays 1 through 4 are located on SW Alaska between California and 44th avenues Southwest.  Bay 2, on the south side of Alaska between 44th and the alley, is the subject of this discussion.  Bay 2 has about 200 Metro boardings per average weekday.  For comparison, Bay 1, between California and the alley, has about 1,300 boardings, while Bays 3 and 4 on the north side of Alaska each see about 400 boardings.  Bays 5 and 6 are on 44th north of Alaska, on the east side of the street and they remain unchanged by this proposal.

Bus shelter in West Seattle, with red box identifying two shelters to be removed.West Seattle businesses, residents, and others have been seeking to identify improvements to reduce illegal and uncivil behavior in the area.  The shelters closest to the City of Seattle provided porta-potty (visible in foreground in the photo) have been identified as facilitating this type of behavior and creating an unwelcoming if not unsafe environment for transit riders and others.

Two factors – ridership that does not justify the number of shelters, and numerous complaints of illegal and uncivil behavior – combined to prompt Metro to plan for removal of the two shelters closest to the Porta Potty, (highlighted in red in the photo).  The remaining two shelters would continue to provide very generous waiting space for Metro riders, as would the two Rapid Ride shelters in Bay 1 next to Key Bank.  Bay 4 (immediately across Alaska Street) currently has two large shelters and twice as many Metro boardings as Bay 2, and we have observed the Bay 4 shelters provide adequate space for riders.

Metro regularly evaluates issues with Metro bus shelters and makes decisions on the installation and removal of bus shelters, as ridership and circumstances change at bus stops. The plan to remove these two Metro shelters arose out of concerns raised by the West Seattle Junction Association (WSJA), and subsequent meetings between WSJA, Metro Transit Police, the Seattle Police Department, and others regarding security issues in the junction, including loitering, public inebriation, fights, illegal dumping, public urination, and harassment of Metro bus riders and others.  The removal of these shelters is one of several efforts in the Junction area that is attempting to address quality of life issues.

Removal of the two shelters at Bay 2 is one of several actions that WSJA and Metro are taking to improve security and maintenance at the Junction. Other efforts include:

  • Metro Transit Police have started a “Problem Solving Project” in partnership with the Seattle Police Department SW Precinct to deal with code of conduct and quality of life issues to improve safety and security for business and citizens using the junction
  • Possible additional lighting in the adjacent parking lots by WSJA
  • Tree and bush trimming by WSJA in the adjacent parking lots to improve visibility into the lots
  • Metro will increase custodial maintenance at the Junction bus stops from three times per week to five times per week.

Metro is looking forward to hearing further public comment and adjusting the proposal in ways that can both serve riders and improve public safety.

Oct. 30 is the last day for public feedback on Metro’s late-night bus service plan

There are only 12 more days for the public to weigh in on Metro’s proposal for expanding and improving late-night bus service in Seattle. The proposal would offer new transit options for those getting to or from jobs, the airport and nightlife between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Metro has about 40 routes with some level of late-night service througnight_owl_1hout King County.  Of these, 20 provide trips after 2 a.m., including three Night Owl routes that loop through some Seattle neighborhoods only between 2:15 a.m. and 4:30 a.m.  The Seattle Department of Transportation funds all service on Night Owl Routes 82, 83 and 84, and partners with Metro to fund additional night owl service on the C and D Lines.

The public is encouraged to review the proposal and offer comments via an online survey until Oct. 30. The survey is available in English, Spanish and Chinese. Metro and SDOT staff are meeting with groups that represent workers and other riders who depend on the service and will ride buses late at night to talk to riders about the proposal and get feedback. Public comments will help shape a final proposal, which could go before the County Council later this year. If approved, it will take effect in September 2017.

Metro’s draft proposal would replace the three Night Owl routes with late-night service on regular, all-day routes that serve the same areas. The draft proposal also includes new after-hours bus service to Sea-Tac Airport for travelers and workers, for whom there currently are limited options after 1 a.m. It also includes hourly all-night service on the RapidRide C, D, and E Lines, which currently operate all night but with less than hourly frequencies.

While overnight ridership represents a small portion of Metro’s total ridership, it has increased by 20 percent in the last five years. Metro conducted a first round of public outreach last spring and developed the latest proposal after hearing from more than 2,600 transit users. Among their highest priorities were better transit options for:

  • Workers in jobs with non-traditional work shifts such as health care and many segments of the service industry.
  • Travelers and workers heading from downtown to Sea-Tac Airport after Link closes.
  • Customers enjoying Seattle’s nightlife, including music and arts venues.
  • Those who are experiencing homelessness.

The proposal would make several changes, including:

  • Replace current Night Owl routes 82, 83, and 84 with two late-night round trips – around 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. — to each of the following routes: 3, 5, 11, 70, 62 and 120.
  • Extend Route 124 all the way to Sea-Tac Airport after 1 a.m.
  • Improve late-night transfer connections between buses in downtown Seattle.

Current Night Owl routes do not match daytime routes, which some riders find confusing. To improve awareness of late-night bus service, Metro will work to improve customer information related to late night service options.

Univision honors Metro’s Penny Lara during Latinx Heritage Month

The people of King County are fortunate to have Penny Lara. A longtime advocate for equity, Lara is a transportation planner at King County Metro focused on improving access to transportation for communities with special needs.

Lara came from the Department of Public Health, Seattle-King County, where she played a key role in implementing ORCA LIFT –the reduced fare card for low-income riders —  and building upon her experience leading efforts to enroll King County’s Latinx community in health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Lara’s energy, enthusiasm and efficacy has not gone unnoticed. This month, Univision recognized her as one of three community members who have done outstanding work to engage the Latinx community. She was featured in a video that aired during Latinx Heritage Month.

“Knowing that I’ve been an instrument in helping build healthy and connected communities for families such as my own is an honor,” Lara said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work in many capacities for my community, both locally and across the border, and hope to continue to work with the amazing teams at King County to bring more resources to all of our families.”

Lara has 20-years of knowledge and experience working with diverse and immigrant populations on health, social justice and equity. Among her accomplishments:

  • She was first to implement the “Promotoras” (Community Health Worker) model for health education outreach in King County;
  • She was creator of the Washington chapter of One Billion Rising – a global movement to raise awareness about domestic violence.
  • Founding member and implementer of the innovative health program Ventanilla de Salud (Health Window) – a top performing program at Mexican Consulates in the U.S.
  • Served as a strategic advisor and cross-cultural liaison for Vicente Fox,  former president of Mexico, on the Advisory Council to the Institute of Mexicans Abroad.

Recognizing the “cultural, educational and political influences of Latinxs in the Northwest,” King County Executive Dow Constantine proclaimed Latinx Heritage Month in King County from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. King County is home to nearly 200,000 residents of Latinx ancestry.

As Penny Lara continues her work to build a more inclusive community, Metro is proud to have her on board.

Get ready: Fall storms = time to sign up for transportation alerts

The weather forecast doesn’t look pretty. Heavy wind and rain is coming our way starting Oct. 13, and now is the time to sign up for King County’s travel alerts, whether you ride Metro, the Water Taxi, or drive on King County roads, or want to receive regional emergency updates.

Looking out a window through raindrops on a Metro bus.Where do I sign up?

Regional updates will be posted on the King County Emergency blog.

The combination of wind and rainfall increases the possibility of clogged storm drains and urban flooding. Sudden bursts of rainfall can temporarily make roads impassable. King County’s My Commute page is a key resource for monitoring the status of closed county roads. Stay up to date with river flooding information by visiting

Road Services crews are on rotation and available to respond to reports of blocked roadways. For your safety, never drive through standing water and respect signs marking closed roads. Call the 24/7 Roads Helpline to report road maintenance and traffic safety issues in unincorporated King County, such as downed stop signs, signals that are out or trees over the roadway. The 24/7 Helpline: 206-477-8100 or 1-800-527-6237 (1-800-KC-ROADS).

Metro Transit supervisors are staffing the agency’s control center and actively monitoring the forecast and changing weather conditions. They are prepared to adjust transit service if routes become blocked.

Water Taxi captains are monitoring wind conditions at three shoreside facilities as well as on the water, and communicate with Washington State Ferries at the Vashon Island ferry terminal. If wave and wind conditions are determined to not be safe for travel, crews will temporarily halt water taxi service until winds subside. Vessels not in service will utilize additional mooring lines.

Airport personnel will be monitoring airfield conditions during the period of high winds and heavy rain.

New ‘loop’ system at Metro customer service office helps deaf or hard of hearing bus riders

Sonja from Metro Customer Service holds up a bus pass while communicating with Nate using the loop counter systemBus riders who are deaf or hard of hearing and use cochlear implants or hearing aids now can use a newly installed hearing ‘loop’ system at King County Metro’s Customer Service Office at 201 South Jackson Street in Seattle. The induction hearing loop system allows customers who use the system to better communicate with Metro employees when they are buying or reloading ORCA cards or getting other help to better ride Metro.

Window sticker says hearing loop service available at Metro Customer ServicesInstalling the induction hearing loop system demonstrates Metro’s continued commitment to accessibility for all of our customers. Loop systems help people better hear sounds at a distance and in environments where there is a lot of background noise. Most hearing aids work best in conversational settings, but are not as good for hearing sounds farther away. The telecoils that the hearing loop system employs act as a miniature loudspeaker to minimize background sounds and sounds in noisy environments.

Closeup image of the Loop counter system at Metro customer serviceGroups such as Let’s Loop Washington and the Hearing, Speech, and Deaf Center of Washington have been campaigning for the installation of hearing loop systems in more businesses and public spaces, and King County Metro is proud to join the growing number of buildings and businesses that have installed hearing loops.

Nate Higby signals to customer service staff that he can hear the staff person through the loop system.Nate Higby, a Metro customer who has hearing aids with telecoils, tried out the new hearing loop system, and was able to easily communicate with a Customer Service employee.

Most hearing aids or cochlear implant are telecoil-equipped, but need to have that option activated to use an induction hearing loop system. For customers whose hearing aids or cochlear implant is not telecoil-equipped, don’t worry: Metro Customer Service has headsets that customers can borrow upon request to use the hearing loop system.

We’re thrilled to have improved our accessibility for our customers who are deaf or hard of hearing, and we look forward to working with you in the Customer Service Office! For updates on information that affect accessibility of Metro’s service, please sign up for our Accessibility Alerts via text or email. Metro has many ways to receive feedback, so please visit Customer Services for details on how to contact us by phone, online form, email or TTY.

Metro to extend routes 3 and 4 to serve Seattle Pacific University in March 2017

queenanne3_4-decisionMetro has decided to extend routes 3 and 4 to West Nickerson Street effective March 11, 2017, the first day of the spring 2017 service change. This change will:

  • Provide a new frequent service connection between downtown Seattle, Queen Anne business district, and Seattle Pacific University.
  • Improve bus connections at Nickerson Street, allowing riders from Queen Anne to more easily travel to Fremont and the University District via routes 31 and 32.
  • Provide access to a restroom for transit operators 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

In June, Metro heard from more than sixty people who expressed their opinion on the proposed change. These comments have shaped Metro’s work in the community.

We heard that it is important to schedule routes 3, 4, and 13 together so that buses come at even intervals between the Queen Anne business district and Seattle Pacific.  Metro will schedule these buses to alternate to the extent possible.  In particular, routes 3 and 4 will be scheduled together so that they come every 15 minutes for most of the day.  Due to connections with other services route 13 may not be as evenly spaced.

We heard from some people that the new connection will benefit people who live along route 3 or 4 and go to school or work at Seattle Pacific University.  We also heard that the change will help people who travel to the University District.

We heard concerns that routes 3 and 4 were being eliminated completely.  This change will remove service from the current turnaround loops on Queen Anne, but will not change how often the routes operate or the pathway of the routes through downtown and into Madrona and Judkins Park respectively. In addition, Metro will keep both route numbers so that riders who take the 3 and 4 today will continue to be able to take the same route number in the future.

We heard from some riders on both the 3 and 4 that we should consider only changing one of the routes and not both.  However, extending only one route would not meet the goal of this change, because the benefits of the new frequent service connections depend on both routes being scheduled and routed together.

We heard concerns about a new bus shelter that was installed at Rodgers Park that would no longer be served.  We heard that it is important to provide bus shelters where many people will be waiting for service, and that some of the other bus stops in the area don’t have shelters.  In response, Metro is working to install a bus shelter at the eastbound bus stop on West McGraw Street at 2nd Avenue West to ensure that riders who currently board route 3 north of West McGraw street have a sheltered waiting place at a nearby stop that will be served by routes 3, 4 and 13.

We heard that the additional walk distance would be a hardship for some people, and could make riding the bus difficult.  We understand the changes we plan to make will make riding transit difficult for some.  For these few riders, there are other options to consider:

  • The Hyde Shuttle provides door-to-door, shared ride trips within the neighborhood. It is free and available for seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Ridesharing such as a carpool with neighbors or forming a vanpool for your commute is also a possibility.
  • Access Transportation may be an option for riders who have a disability that would prevent them from riding bus service some or all of the time.

Stay tuned for more information about this change, including schedule information and maps, in March 2017. If you have further questions about this change or service planning, please email Katie Chalmers, Service Planning Supervisor, or call her at 206-477-5869.

UW-Stanford game: Plan for Friday delays, service revisions, and no Husky P&R shuttles

Commuters, take note: The Pac-12’s biggest game of the year Friday between the Huskies and Stanford is going to mean rush-hour delays and route revisions for some buses in the area  of Husky Stadium.

Tens of thousands of fans are expected to converge on Husky Stadium to see the No. 10 Huskies take on the No. 7 Cardinal. Kickoff is at 6 p.m., and traffic is going to be a scrum for buses around the Montlake Triangle and the U-District.

Metro urges riders to prepare for delays and plan ahead: Several buses serving the UW light rail station will be rerouted before and after the game. Riders should check Metro’s service alerts for updated information and the times when reroutes are
scheduled to take effect. Some buses won’t be rerouted until the game is almost over, and some won’t be rerouted at all.

Below is a list and map of affected routes. Click on each number for specific information regarding that route:

When buses are rerouted out of the Husky Stadium area, riders headed to or from the stadium can walk or ride a free shuttle the rest of the way. The UW Link shuttle operates about every 7 1/2 minutes, starting from University Way Northeast just north of Northeast Pacific Street. It will serve stops along Pacific before turning around at 22nd Avenue East and Montlake to provide westbound service back to the University District.

Metro supervisors will be on-hand near the stadium to help people with directions.

No park-and-ride shuttles: Since the UW-Stanford game wi
ll not be on a weekend, Metro is not operating Husky Shuttle service from area park-and-rides, as has been provided in partnership with UW during Saturday games. Husky fans who normally ride Husky shuttle service should contact UW ohusky_stadium-1r visit UW’s website for information about transportation options.

Fans also are encouraged to ride Link light rail, which now runs from Angle Lake to the University of Washington.

For information about regular transit service to games, or to plan other trips, visit Metro Online or Metro’s online Trip Planner. When planning your trip, check Metro’s Service Advisories page to find out about any known revisions to your routes.

Changes coming to Northgate Transit Center Park-and-Ride

As early as Monday, October 10, 2016 a new interim park-and-ride lot (Lot B) will open across the street from the Northgate Transit Center at the southeast corner of NE 100th Street and First Avenue NE. The new interim lot is needed to replace stalls that will be unavailable after the Northgate Link light rail station construction begins later this fall.

Construction will occupy the west side of the Northgate Transit Center Park-and-Ride along First Avenue NE. The park-and-ride entrance on NE 100th Street will stay open at this time.

The capacity of the existing interim park-and-ride lot (Lot A) at the corner of NE 103rd Street and Fifth Ave NE will be reduced as Northgate Mall resumes exclusive use of some stalls.

As construction of the station progresses, we’ll keep you informed about additional changes to the park-and-ride.

For more information:


Map of Phase 1 Changes

  • 20160920-northgate-link-extension-parking-phase1

UPDATE: New transit concepts for Kirkland and south Kenmore – Tell us what you think by Oct. 12

asd-kkEditor’s Note: This post was updated on Oct. 4, 2016, to extend the deadline for comment on alternative service concepts for Kirkland and South Kenmore to Oct. 12.

Last spring, Metro’s Alternative Services program began working with the communities of Kirkland and south Kenmore to identify transit gaps created in September 2014 when Metro deleted two routes that served these areas. A stakeholder working group helped us prioritize transportation needs that might be met by innovative, custom mobility services.

Here are some options we’re presenting to Kirkland and south Kenmore for consideration:

  • Community van: Metro provides vans for local prescheduled group trips that are arranged by a Community Transportation Coordinator and driven by volunteer drivers.
  • SchoolPool is a free and secure ridematch program that connects parents of children attending the same school who want to carpool, bike, or walk together.
  • TripPool is a “first-mile connection” for commuters. It provides real-time ridesharing that connects members—both drivers and riders—to transit.

Now we’d like to hear from people who live, work, go to school, and play in Kirkland and south Kenmore. Will these ideas meet your community’s transportation needs? Would you be interested in trying them?

Questions? Contact DeAnna Martin, 206-477-3835