King County Buses are Turning into Rolling Homeless Shelters


I’m a frequent transit rider, often daily. But something’s happening out on the road now that Metro KC isn’t really enforcing payments or doing much at all about bus camp-outs.

One recent day the number 12 stopped a few blocks short of my destination because the occupant of the entire back row – bags, blankets, clothing – went to the back door and urinated. He aimed outside at a stop, but most of his output landed on the floor.

The driver was furious. He yelled at the bus camper, stopped the bus, asked him why he peed on the floor, and was calling SPD when I left. He told me he doesn’t mind camp-outs but urinating on his bus is a step too far.

I walked on but the episode made me wonder. Given the need to have buses safe and clean and to actually get help and shelter to those now using the bus as a campground — why can’t we find better pathways to shelter and treatment? Perhaps interim places with services where those in need can camp safely while waiting for the shelter system to catch up. We don’t need a current look-away policy that compromises public safety while failing to help those homeless riders.

Mike James
Mike James
Mike James was a long-time anchor newscaster at KING TV.


  1. No driver says a thing when people get on without paying. I feel like a sucker paying my fare. Insane people scream on the bus, the driver does nothing. An elderly woman is threatened by a lunatic, the driver says nothing. Wake up, Seattle.

  2. The rules for drivers have been like that forever. Drivers aren’t enforcement – they aren’t hired, equipped or trained for any kind of serious conflict, they’re there to get the bus down the road along its appointed route. If we expect any enforcement on the buses, it’s reasonably going to have to come from someone else.

      • If you ever saw Transit Police on a Metro bus, that would be by the way the King County Transit Police, who are still in business. I don’t know if the size of the department was affected by any defunding – probably not, since that’s mostly a right wing talking point with little correspondence to any reality – but very likely the officers are considerably fewer than the buses.

        What really has happened along those lines, is Sound Transit’s “Fare Ambassador” staff replacing armed fare enforcement officers on light rail. Maybe Metro could benefit from some creative thinking about how to deal with disorder on their buses.

  3. Remember the Free Zone?
    I had an office on the corner of 1st and Jackson. The 12 and 15 were rolling hotels. Sit in front of you don’t want cooties.
    I miss the Free Zone because I wasn’t paying and neither was anyone else working downtown.


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