King County Metro riders can expect at least a few more weeks of service disruptions as 114 of the agency’s buses undergo repairs, according to spokesperson Al Sanders. When full service will return depends on the delivery of key parts, which have yet to arrive.
Metro was forced to cut roughly 10% of its service this month when operators complained of their steering feeling “loose.” Metro conducted a fleetwide check and found 126 out of about 1,500 buses with the problem.
The steering problem did not result in any injuries or crashes. The vehicles’ manufacturer, New Flyer, said the coaches were pulled out of an “abundance of caution.”
A service team from New Flyer, based in Canada, is working with Metro to identify and fix the issues. So far, 12 buses have been repaired, Sanders said.
Most of the affected buses are 60-foot articulated coaches, although not all from the same year and class. Those taken out of service were added to Metro’s fleet in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
The issue is not tied to all of Metro’s New Flyer buses; many remain in service.
“Investigations have found that the problem is specific to only the double tilt steering column, which is a customized component unique to a very small number of our customers’ vehicles, including King County Metro,” a New Flyer spokesperson said in an email. Other agencies across the country have so far not raised the same issue.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued at least two recalls for New Flyer buses because of possible issues with steering, but Sanders said neither bore any relation to the current issue. One in 2015 was related to a possibly faulty tie rod; the other in 2022 was related to the incorrect installation of a steering gear.
Metro is working with New Flyer crews to fix the problem, but progress has been disrupted by the slow arrival of parts, “which are not as readily available as we would hope,” Sanders said.
“Unfortunately, the global supply chain challenges mean that getting the necessary parts is taking longer than ideal,” the New Flyer spokesperson said.
Parts shortages are no stranger to Metro or transit agencies writ large in recent months: Supply chain issues earlier this year sidelined about 11% of Metro’s fleet as crews waited for key parts, often related to the buses’ hybrid-electric engines. However, those previous delays did not result in the suspension of any trips.
Metro is still delivering about 90% of its 11,000 daily weekday trips. But 17 routes were suspended Monday afternoon across the county, with riders encouraged to take alternative paths to their destinations.
Meanwhile, Metro is dealing with what is to be a cold and snowy week — which tends to cause slowdowns and route alterations on Seattle’s hilly streets.
Seattle Times staff reporter Amanda Zhou contributed to this report.
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