King County Metro rolls toward full staff of bus operators

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(The Center Square) – A recent update on the state of the King County Metro Department highlighted an improving bus operator workforce amid a heavy reliance on overtime.

Currently, King County Metro has 2,170 full-time operators, according to King County Metro General Manager Michelle Allison. The current number of operators is 168 short of the department’s goal of 2,338 operators.

Allison added that there are 400 applicants in Metro’s current recruitment.

“People want to work for King County Metro so now it’s our job to make the system as fast as possible to get people on board and trained,” Allison said during Tuesday’s King County Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee meeting. “Our next challenge – is to continue to work with [the Amalgamated Transit Union] to get 20 more trainers.”

Last August, King County Metro and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 reached an agreement on a three-year labor contract that increases wages by 17%.

The Metro operators’ full capacity was previously about 3,000, with the inclusion of service lines that the department cut last September.

Allison said King County Metro continues to overly rely on overtime and part-time workers to maintain consistent services. The department was unable to provide up-to-date information on overtime usage to The Center Square. However, the most recent data from August 2023 showed that the department is using high-levels of bus operator overtime hours at 24% to 30% to make up for the staffing shortage. The department’s target usage of overtime is 7%.

Metro’s fleet availability is averaging around 928, according to Allison. The department’s goal is 942 coaches in order to have a sufficient fleet.

According to Metro’s Rider Dashboard, December ridership in 2023 was down 35,105 from December 2022. Allison noted in her briefing that holiday seasons impact ridership rates. Average weekday boarding in December were approximately 234,700. That is a 17.4% drop from the highest average for 2023 of approximately 284,000 average weekday boarding in October.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, average weekday ridership rates were consistently over 400,000.

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