Metro Transit to review policy about bus drivers intervening

Metro Transit to review policy about bus drivers intervening »Play Video
File photo of Metro bus as it stops at the intersection of Third Avenue and Seneca Street in downtown Seattle.
SEATTLE -- When a 15-year-old was viciously attacked in the Seattle Downtown Bus Tunnel, nearby security guards said policy forced them to stand by and watch.

Metro bus drivers are under similar orders not to intervene in such matters, but now Metro Transit is reviewing its policy.

The president of the bus drivers' union says he's concerned that policy was compromising the public's safety. He says the bus tunnel attack is another example of why drivers should be allowed to help. Drivers face suspension or possible termination if they step in.

According to the transit operating handbook, a bus driver is instructed not to intervene but instead push an EA button. That button would alert a dispatcher, who would then call police. But as we saw in the bus tunnel attack, some attacks happen in less than a few minutes.

Two years ago, a bus driver wrestled a gunman to the ground and held him until police came.

"Metro's reaction was to threaten to suspend the driver for intervening, while at the same time the police department and the county council were putting together awards for this gentleman," said Paul Bachtel, president of Metro Bus Driver's Union, Local 587. "Metro quickly backed off, but did put a letter in his file advising him not to intervene in the future."

Metro Transit's general manager says not all cases are clear-cut.

"It ends up being a very difficult judgment call at the time," said Jim Jacobsen. "And if in fact someone ends up getting hurt -- that maybe was an innocent bystander or maybe wasn't the perpetrator. In the event then, you have another whole set of issues that you end up having to deal with."

Bechtel says Metro Transit should give drivers a choice.

"Let employees know that they have a civic duty and that they shouldn't be fearful of losing their jobs if they exercise (that right)," Bachtel said.

Bachtel also said bus drivers would possibly go on strike if a driver was fired for intervening.