Metro’s new foreign language plan off to a bumpy start

(Photo by Alex Stonehill)

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.”

The metro rider alert issued before the Fourth of July. (Photo by Joana Ramos)
The metro rider alert issued before the Fourth of July. (Photo by Joana Ramos)

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.”


  1. Diversity of culture is indeed one of the things that makes Seattle a great place to be. But, we have a common language for a reason. People need to read, write, and speak at least some English to be able to thrive in our society.

  2. How about you just make it functional and useful for ENGLISH speakers first. We don’t even have that… its a bridge to far to extend an ineffective system to other languages, if you cannot even get the working language of our nation to be usefull enough to utilize the transit system.

  3. I suspect that Metro used and outside translation agency to provide the translations that have been called into question. Now Metro is being accused of being insensitive to Spanish-speakers.

    I am sure that Metro is not insensitive to non-English speakers and to claim they are in disingenuous.

    The translation agency that provided the translated material to Metro is guilty of very poor quality control and laziness in not adequately proofing their work.

    Hopefully Metro is firing the contractor and finding a provider that offers higher quality standards.

    Perhaps the author of this story should look into who provided the translation to Metro.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *