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Since 2018, Metro Transit buses have traveled over 200 million miles and have been involved in 104 preventable incidents with a reported injury. While Metro Transit’s Safety & Security Division reviews thousands of incidents each year, we found that Metro Transit could improve its review by collecting and analyzing data on additional indicators of risks, including less serious incidents, customer complaints, and operator traffic tickets. We also found that operators receive safety training after an incident, but more regular training for all operators could help prevent collisions, lowering the potential for injuries and costs.

Watch the presentation (6:22)

Summary

While one of the safest forms of travel, Metro Transit buses still have the potential to cause grave injuries through serious collisions. For instance, over the past four years there have been four fatalities and four debilitating injuries involving buses, even though Metro Transit found that bus operators would not have been able to prevent any of these particular incidents. In addition to the human cost, King County also risks reputational damage and has paid over $15 million in claims in the past five years. The County’s insurance costs are also rising in 2022, in part because of national trends regarding collisions and rising jury awards. This is why the Office of Risk Management Services consistently regards collisions and injuries to be among the top risks to the County. The total number of collisions fell during the pandemic, but it is likely to increase again as service and traffic return to pre-pandemic levels.

This audit looks at the steps Metro Transit takes as an agency to reduce the likelihood that collisions or injuries will occur.

Metro Transit Department buses are involved in thousands of safety incidents each year, but few incidents result in serious injuries. Metro Transit has a response system in place that includes measures such as reviewing incidents to assess for any injuries or property damage. For more serious incidents, Metro Transit takes additional measures, like operator post-incident re-training and discipline. The Safety & Security Division also looks for patterns across incidents to find opportunities to prevent future collisions and injuries.

We found that while Metro Transit takes steps to respond to incidents, it could expand these measures to be more proactive in its prevention efforts. For example, Metro Transit has fewer formal response steps for incidents that did not result in injury or damage. Additionally, the Safety & Security Division does not have efficient access to data, such as traffic tickets and customer complaints, which could help identify risks for future incidents. Lastly, while staff work to find issues that contributed to incidents, they do not capture this information in the department’s incident data system, making it more difficult to identify emerging patterns.

Metro Transit provides continuing education and post-incident training to operators but does not require regular training on basic skills and safety expectations—as suggested by the Transit Cooperative Research Program—to help prevent skill loss. This reactive model of training can also create a perception among some operators that training is a form of punishment. More regular re-training could reduce this stigma and prevent future collisions and injuries.

 

We recommend Metro Transit expand its analysis and response measures to include less severe incidents and require regular re-training for all operators.

Audit team

Elise Garvey, Peter Heineccius, and Ben Thompson worked on this audit. If you have any questions or would like more information, please call the King County Auditor's Office at 206-477-1033 or contact us by email at KCAO@kingcounty.gov.