File photo by David Rosen
An inside perspective on crammed RapidRide buses in West Seattle. Some have raised concerns over fare evasion and open drinking of alcohol as a result of overcrowding and lax Metro enforcement.

Safety concerns arise with RapidRide

There have certainly been some growing pains with Metro’s introduction of the RapidRide C Line to West Seattle, from hour long waits when 10 to 15 minutes were promised to buses filled to the brim and forced to drive right past waiting commuters.

Those problems, Metro says, come down to increased ridership over their expectations (they have added more buses in an attempt to cure that woe), issues with traffic light and driver timing, and slowdowns at certain parts of the line – especially downtown after the free-ride area came to an end and everyone had to start paying a fare.

Or did they?

That was one of the concerns raised by the community at a West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting in November, where Richard Miller, council president, brought in representatives from Metro and Sound Transit to answer questions.

“Rampant with thugs and drug dealers and punks,” was the way one citizen characterized the ridership of RapidRide, especially resulting from stops in the Junction and at Fauntleroy on the way downtown.

Sharonn Meeks, a Fairmount resident, said nearly every time she gets on the C Line at those stops a slew of people jump on at the middle or rear doors without paying due to the size of the transit crowd. Many, she said, are drinking alcohol on and off the buses.

**Update for 12/6: To provide a bit more clarity on this, several RapidRide terminals and shelters allow people to tap their ORCA cards and pay for their trip ahead of time. This allows them to get on the bus at any door without the need to pay at the front door. Meeks' concern is in reference to those who might not be paying ahead of time and getting a free ride.**

“With Metro (police) in a position where they cannot adequately police … we are going to have a major issue in the Junction area,” Meeks continued. “We ask that you enforce what you can as soon as you can.”

Metro officials responded that everyone should be paying their fare (a grace period ended three-quarters of the way through November), but that they currently only have two fare enforcement officers for all of the C Line, so they cannot be everywhere at once.

Chris Arkills, transportation advisor to King County Executive Dow Constantine, asked for the public’s help by reporting open drinking, drug dealing, or fare evasion either to the bus driver or to Metro Police, by calling 206-296-3311 (non-emergency line, tell them you have a Metro call). Metro police are spread thin across the county (only 69 for the entire area), but Arkills said repeated reports of problems in a certain area will increase the chance of more resources being devoted.

On a similar note, West Seattle business owner and Chamber member Dave Montoure asked how Metro deals with alcohol consumption in shelters. Montoure said chronic inebriates congregating and drinking at bus shelters in the Junction has become a problem.

A Metro official said they have the option to remove glass or benches from shelters to make them a less attractive hang-out spot for inebriates. There is also an issue of jurisdiction. Seattle police can issue tickets for open containers, but they cannot revoke Metro riding privileges. It would take a transit cop to come in and trespass people from the bus system for a certain period of time.

Betty Wiberg, a leading member of the crime prevention council, said she worries about pedestrian and traffic safety south of Westwood Village, where it is not uncommon these days to see up to eight buses piled up along S.W. Barton St.

A Metro official said part of having more service is having more buses, hence the occasional pile up at Westwood where bus drivers pull over for breaks during the day and evening.

Crime report for November and the holidays
Stepping off the bus for a different topic, Seattle Police Southwest Precinct Captain Steve Paulsen said early November saw a spike in property crimes (residential burglaries, car prowls, vehicle thefts), but in working with the King County Sheriff’s Office they have made arrests that they hope will “dramatically impact” those rising numbers into the holiday season.

Speaking of the holidays, Paulsen said property crimes do tend to jump during the shopping season. Crooks know there is a greater probability of valuable goods being found in cars and homes.

Paulsen recommended keeping a close eye out for suspicious characters in our neighborhoods (and calling 911 if something seems out of place) and being especially vigilant while shopping at Westwood Village and in the Junction. He said he has instructed his officers to increase their patrols in those areas over the next month.

On a final note, Paulsen recommended figuring out when Fed Ex or UPS deliveries are coming to your home and making an effort to be there at that time or have a trusted neighbor pick the items up for safekeeping. Packages on the stoop are an easy target for criminals driving through our neighborhoods.

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