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When you step onto a Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) bus, you enter a meticulously cared-for space tended by a dedicated team. Hostlers keep the buses clean, fleet technicians ensure the wheels keep turning, dispatchers manage route timing, and operators take passengers where they need to go. WTA’s newest members of this team are the Transit Safety Officers (TSOs) who are part of a new era of transit safety.

Chico, George, and Rocky have been working at WTA’s stations and on board buses since July 2023. Chico and George, with their experience as WTA transit operators and expediters, bring an understanding of the system’s dynamics. Rocky, who previously worked in law enforcement in Montana, offers a fresh perspective. Together, they share a strong commitment to de-escalating any potential problems and managing issues with compassion and professionalism.

Chico, who has over five years of experience as a transit operator, explains, “As a driver you get a pretty good feel of the challenges in transit. I was one of many people who felt like something more needed to be done.” With a decade of security expertise, including three years as a security supervisor at Silver Reef Casino, Chico recognized the potential impact he could bring to WTA’s safety efforts.

“For me, it’s not about going out there and trying to remove people from our buses,” says Transit Safety Officer Chico. “It’s more about trying to correct behavior and continuing to let people ride.” Photo courtesy Whatcom Transportation Authority

“When I enter a situation, I try to walk in calm and fresh to get a read on the situation. If I can be calm with a person, they’re generally not going to escalate above what I bring to the table,” Chico reflects. He believes that by offering an empathetic ear and genuinely listening to people’s concerns, he can diffuse potentially difficult situations.

“For me, it’s not about going out there and trying to remove people from our buses; it’s more about trying to correct behavior and continuing to let people ride.”

WTA is not stopping at the addition of Transit Safety Officers. They are also collaborating with the Opportunity Council’s Homeless Outreach Team, in partnership with the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County, to address homelessness-related challenges. Enhancements in security cameras and safety signage are also underway.

Jeff Benson, Safety and Risk Manager at WTA underlines the significance of the TSO program: “We want people to choose to ride with WTA because it is safe, reliable, friendly, and efficient. Our Transit Safety Officers play a key role in making this vision a reality.” With a commitment to maintaining a safe and friendly environment on buses and at stations, the TSOs have already begun to leave a positive mark.

The TSO’s presence on the buses has been met with gratitude from both passengers and WTA Transit Operators alike.”I can’t tell you how many people have thanked me just for being out there,” said Chico.

The creation of the Transit Safety Officer positions reflects WTA’s commitment to their riders. These officers are more than just professionals; they are listeners, team members, and partners. When you step onto a WTA bus, you can be sure that you’re riding with whole a team dedicated to getting you where you need to go, safely.

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