Metro drivers claim stress is making rides more dangerous

SEATTLE -- Union drivers for King County Metro say they sometimes go an entire shift without a bathroom break or few moments to relax and not have to focus on traffic.

The ensuing stress, they claim, is making it harder for drivers to cope with violent or unruly passengers.

"We're working harder and faster, and a lot of drivers don't ever get breaks," said driver Linda Averill. "Yet we're dealing with more and more people who have issues because of a shredded safety net. All of that adds up to incredible stress. "

A crowd of union drivers and supporters held a street rally Monday afternoon in front of the Metro Transit base at 6th and Royal Brougham Street in Seattle.

Averill is a 21-year-veteran and said driver stress has increased with agency budget cuts. Metro Transit is facing another round of deep service cuts if it doesn't receive more public funding.

"That is going to compromise my safety and customer service," Averill said. "You're not going to be able to provide the calm, best driving that you really should be able to."

Monday's rally comes just as members are preparing for a vote this Thursday on the company's most recent contract offer.

The three-year-offer calls for a wage freeze in year one, followed by a two-percent raise in each of the following years.

Drivers believe Metro Transit could do a better job of easing driver stress when making difficult budget and service cuts.

The agency declined to comment on the union's complaint, citing sensitivity surrounding this week's contract vote. But a Metro Transit spokesperson said the agency considers passenger and driver safety a top priority.