An ambitious plan to help non-English speaking residents better access bus services has already been tarnished by translation mistakes on Summer schedules.
Back in June, the new Summer schedules for Metro bus routes were published and distributed around King County.
For the first time, the schedules included Spanish translations of route changes, holiday schedules and other information, in accordance with a new plan to serve residents with limited English proficiency, who disproportionately rely on bus service.
It didn’t take long for Joana Ramos, a board member of Washington State Coalition for Language Access (WASCLA), to notice something was wrong.
A number of the schedules included minor translation errors. But the errors on schedules for routes 12 (Downtown to north Capitol Hill) and 48 (Loyal Heights to Mount Baker) were worse. The English version said simply and clearly that the Sunday schedule would apply on holidays, but the Spanish translations inaccurately stated that the bus would not be running at all on holidays or weekends.
Metro’s public affairs media coordinator Jeff Switzer chalked the mistake up to a mix-up that wasn’t caught in the final copyediting process.
“This was the first time we had included in the time tables a Spanish translation,” he said. “Having a copyediting process that has the English and Spanish blocks together should prevent mistakes like this from happening.”
Metro released a rider alert in time for Fourth of July clarifying that buses were in fact running on holidays. But so far the weekend error still remains uncorrected.
“The incorrect information creates a language barrier because it can cause much confusion and make it difficult, perhaps impossible, for customers to be able to use the transit services they need,” Ramos said.
In June of last year Metro released its Limited English Proficiency (LEP) plan, based on a broad analysis of King County’s growing international population, and the ways they use transit services.
The plan is worth a look — it includes maps showing the percentage of homes where various foreign languages are spoken in different parts of the county.
The analysis includes commonly spoken languages from Punjabi to Somali to Vietnamese. But Spanish is the only foreign language widely spoken enough to qualify at “Tier 1” and thus merit inclusion in printed schedules.
As Metro goes forward implementing other aspects of the plan, Switzer says they’re working hard to make sure translation errors don’t happen again.
Ramos has praised the LEP plan, but says the schedule error is “an example of why good intentions are not enough.”