Seattle’s transit system has become unusable after reports of toxic fentanyl and meth smoke, volatile behavior and dangerous work environments, which has scared off travelers, local authorities said, The Seattle Times reported Monday.
King County Metro Transit workers filed 398 security incident reports regarding drug use in 2021, compared to 73 in 2020 and just 44 in 2019, according to the Times. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, representing over 4,000 King County Metro Transit workers, said the public transportation system needs stronger enforcement to remove the growing numbers of drug users.
Active duty cops have been punched, spat and threatened while also dealing with surging drug smoke from fentanyl and meth, the Times reported. Narcotic smoking surged last summer, surpassing needles and marijuana complaints.
The city plans to release a new Safety, Security and Fare Enforcement Initiative in February, incorporating surveys and comments from 8,000 people, the Times reported. The plan hopes to improve the dangerous environment on transit while showing compassion, especially to homeless people.
The plan is “a necessary step on its journey to becoming an anti-racist mobility agency,” according to the King County website.
The Metro Transit Authority (MTA) has avoided law enforcement against the homeless population after widespread protests triggered by the death of George Floyd, according to the Times.
Unarmed Securitas monitor the metro and have zero authority to arrest or remove people from public transportation, the Times reported. Seattle police officers do not regularly patrol the transit vehicles and illegal drug use is considered a “lower priority than violent crime,” Seattle Police Detective Patrick Michaud told the Seattle Times.
The union representing the group of transit workers endorsed Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s mayor, who ran as a law and order candidate but has struggled to address the growing crime and drug use in the city, the Times reported. Since the summer of 2021, over six operators had to stop driving mid-shift, while 14 reported headaches, dizziness or irritated breathing.
Users usually light the bottom of a piece of aluminum foil that heats the drugs, which is sucked down using a straw, according to the Times. The smoke is carried forward from the device, and some transit vehicles do not have windows that open.
“It smells like burnt peanut butter, mixed with brake fluid,” King County Metro Transit operator Erik Christensen told the Times.
Seattle’s transit use rose roughly 50% in the 2010s, the highest rate of any U.S. city, the Times reported. Roughly 750,000 people used the transit system on a daily basis prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re after the criminal activity, the smoking drugs, the assaults, the deterioration of transit,” Local 587 Vice President Cory Rigtrup told the Times. “The solution is to restore transit, make it welcoming, bring back passengers.
Seattle residents pay the country’s highest transit tax, spending roughly $1,200 yearly per capita. Meanwhile, ridership and fare income dipped by over 50% during the pandemic.
“We should not be coming down on a totally punitive side,” Metro General Manager Terry White told the Times. “We should figure out how we serve community.”
“Hopefully we’ll be putting some things in place, where you’ll see more police on a coach,” White said, adding the city also plans to implement updated outreach programs for the homeless.
Crime has surged in Seattle recently, with shootings increasing 46% in 2020, according to an annual report by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported. A massive gunfight erupted on Feb. 7 in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood with over 40 gunshots reported.
Multiple men allegedly kicked and punched a 23-year-old and left him unconscious on Jan. 25, among a string of violent assaults and robberies, the DCNF reported. Police also found a man near a city homeless encampment on Jan 20. with a crossbow sticking out of his chest following a purported altercation.
The Seattle Police Department and Metro Transit Authority did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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