Starting Monday, Seattle Public Schools will welcome students in grades six through 12 back to in-person learning for the first time in over a year. The classrooms will feel different with only half the students together in person at a time, but it marks an important step for students, their families and our region.
At King County Metro, we know many middle and high school students rely on transit to get to and from school. As general manager, I wanted to offer some tips to help families get ready — and also to share how important, and personal, student safety is to me.
First, don’t wait to locate your ORCA card and to plan your trip. You can take advantage of the King County Metro Trip Planner, use Google Maps in transit mode, or contact Metro customer service for help (206-553-3000; dial “1” for an interpreter).
Second, always wear a mask while riding and waiting at the bus stop. The mask should fit above your nose, below your chin, and snugly against your face.
Third, allow extra time to reach school and when leaving school. Some bus trips might be too full to carry more riders because of required physical distancing. Metro is working to add bus service wherever possible. Text your bus stop ID to 62550 and you can see when the next bus is expected to arrive.
And last, know that we have a layered safety approach — guided by public health expertise. Metro requires masks, has passenger limits and physical distancing, disinfects its coaches daily, encourages contact-less payment, and has upgraded air filters on all buses.
Long before I led our region’s largest transit agency, I grew up taking Metro to school myself. Today, I am a parent of elementary and middle school children. Like any parent, I sometimes worry about my children and I always find myself wanting to know more. Fortunately, I know Metro will look out for them and open up new opportunities, just like it did for me.
My mother, brother, sister and I grew up in south King County in government housing, and my mother’s ingenuity saw the opportunity of transit. Despite her disability, she took us everywhere on the bus — to museums, parks and stadiums.
When I was 10, my mother let me know that I needed to start taking some of those bus trips on my own. I was nervous, but was given strict instructions: greet the operator, sit near the front, and to know that they would take care of me. Unfailingly, they did. Sometimes, they let me work the old hand crank destination sign or told me not to worry about my fare, which was a gift I take with me to this day. Today, I’m very proud of our reduced fare programs for youth, customers with lower incomes, customers with disabilities and seniors.
As a high schooler, that solo bus trip was longer than ever — but my mother also saw the opportunity of education, and she trusted me and Metro. Four years later, I earned admission to a college and upon graduating, I applied for every Metro position that was listed in the newspaper. I knew exactly what I wanted to do: Emulate the bus operators who had helped me.
I’ve been through 14 positions before I was named general manager. Getting to know so many parts of our agency turned out to be great preparation for this past year. Across Metro, we came together to keep our region moving while being a national leader in protecting our customers and our employees.
My confidence in our layered safety approach is such that I have never stopped riding our system. Throughout last year, I was joined by our customers who keep our lights on, our grocery stores stocked, and our most vulnerable cared for. This year, new and returning riders join me on the bus each week as confidence in transit safety increases, more of us — myself included — get vaccinated, and our county recovers and rebuilds.
I’m looking forward to next week when I’ll see Seattle’s students back on our buses and headed to a bright future.