Buses have always been gross, but please wear a mask and wash your hands anyway

Don Iler
10 min readMay 23, 2020


This past Wednesday, TriMet began mandating that all passengers wear masks when they are on buses and trains in the system. This follows directives made a week ago that bus and rail operators wear masks while on duty. With reports of so many operators around the country becoming sick and dying from Covid-19, it’s nice to see TriMet begin to make concrete steps in order to safeguard drivers and passengers. It’s probably the first in a series of steps that policy makers will begin to make in order to make riding transit safe again, but while they are considering how to incorporate sanitizing and social distancing into vehicles never designed for either, it would be good to step back and think just how gross the bus has been all along.

Little bus with big aspirations. Stay home and help others stay healthy if you can.

I love the bus. I loved riding the bus as a commuter before I started driving for TriMet, and I still love getting on board everyday, whether it is driving, getting to work, or a trip to go shopping, or out to eat (wait a second, I can’t go out to eat anymore, thanks coronavirus). However, after just a year and a half of driving, I have seen nearly every bodily fluid on those buses. Guess what, those buses aren’t sterile, they never have been, and because of all the humanity that gets on and off the bus, a lot of life has happened on those seats.

Someone has vomited on your bus

My second week on the job I was headed up to OHSU on the 8, on one of those cold, rainy mornings that can make the inside of the bus smell like the room of some wet mammal exhibit at the Zoo. Someone vomited on the bus, because guess what, a stuffy wet bus in January plus some morning sickness will do that to a person. Totally not her fault, but it happened. Also she was awesome because it all pretty much ended up in the trashcan.

Someone has peed on your bus

Driving the 75, heading east on Lombard through St. Johns, I picked up an older gentlemen. He sat up front and I kept driving down Lombard. Eventually it starts smelling really strongly of urine and just terrible smells. I crack open the window because I can barely take it. I started to wonder whether someone had gone to the bathroom on the bus, but sometimes people who haven’t gone to the bathroom on the bus smell that bad. I get to Interstate and I just can’t take it anymore. The old man hobbles off the bus and I notice his pants are wet, with one sneaker squishy and more wet than the other. I look back to where he sat, and there is a puddle. Urine. Called that into dispatch and I have to take a trip back to the garage to clean the bus.

It’s not just the passenger seats you have to worry about either. Bus drivers have been known to soil their seats too, so we aren’t even immune to it.

Someone has pooped on your bus

Then there was the time someone left a puddle of diarrhea on the 12 when I was going up Sandy Boulevard towards Parkrose. At first I wasn’t sure it was poop, because sometimes people just smell really bad on the bus. It got worse though. Eventually a group of passengers get off and after they do a woman comes up to me.

“Excuse me, sorry, but there, there is, um well, there is…”

I whisper, “Did someone go to the bathroom on one of the seats?”

She smiles, “Exactly!”

I love the seats on the 2500s and their funky 90s aesthetic, I just try not to think about the germs.

I go back and there is a puddle of diahrrea on the seat. I take out some caution tape and tape off the area and tell no one to sit near there. Dispatch tells me to continue to Parkrose with the passengers and then go to Powell Garage to get it cleaned. At every stop I tell people not to sit where the tape is. Please don’t sit there, that seat is covered in feces. You’d be surprised how many people don’t listen to you, even if you get up and point to the taped off seat and say it’s covered in doodoo. Some guy sat one seat away for like 15 blocks.

What always surprises me when I have feces on the bus though is people still want on the bus. Frankly if I knew someone had gone to the bathroom on the bus, I’d just wait for the next one, especially if it was a frequent service line. I don’t have to be anywhere that badly.

Someone has bled on your bus

Bloody noses happen, whether it’s a little kid (lets be honest, adults with no manners too) who dug a little too deep trying to get those boogers out, or a addict who hit that nose candy a little too hard before getting on the bus. Then you have the cut lip, bruised cheek, I just got in a fight but I need to get out on this bus now to get away from the tweakers after me. That’s usually what it amounts to, nothing more than a paper towel or kleenex can’t handle.

Then there was the time I was driving the 19 late at night. The 19 isn’t even that weird of a route, usually it’s just quiet and impossible to keep on time. I picked up some tweakers somewhere along Burnside, and then some more at Glisan and Cesar Chavez. One couple was talking about how they were going to attempt to return some items they had stole from another Fred Meyer to the one on Glisan so they could get some cash for drugs. The other couple said that sounded like a solid plan. Everyone got off near near the Glisan Fred Meyer, first one couple, then the other. As the second group got off with a pile of cans, one of the women, said gross, oh, is that what I think it is. Oh yeah that’s super gross, I know what that is.

NE Glisan and Cesar Chavez Boulevard, AKA 39th.

I keep driving, not really thinking of anything. Eventually I start thinking, wait a second, what is so gross. I open my shield door at the next stop and look down. What is that? Wait a second, is that a tampon? I see drops of thick blood around it and trailing back to the passenger area. I start freaking out and call dispatch. No one is on the bus and it’s almost to the end of the line so I keep driving and trade the bus out with extra service waiting at Gateway Transit Center and keep going.

My way back down Glisan, the first tweaker couple that got off the bus is waiting at the stop in front of Fred Meyer. I don’t realize this until I open the door. The man asks if I go to Flavel, I pretend like I’m not sure. As I pretend to look up information, the woman turns around and I see blood on the backside of her pajama bottoms. I tell them she’s bleeding and I can’t let them on the bus and take off.

Yes there is probably semen on that bus too

Ok, I haven’t seen it personally. But have you heard of the TriMet barber? Loved snipping off driver’s hair and leaving semen on the bus. So it’s probably there somewhere. I’m not bringing a black light though, there’s just some things better left unknown.

Spit? Oh yes, there is spit

A wino fell over on my bus once because he was falling down drunk at 3 in the afternoon. He decided my face was a good place to spit on, and launched a loogey because it was my fault he has such a problem drinking he can’t stay standing up.

Two days later, he was drunk again and looking to get on my bus. I told him no, last time I saw you, you spit at me. He spit at me again. He got arrested and spent four days in county.

Two weeks later he tried getting on my bus. The bus was stopped at a light and when I wouldn’t let him on he just spit and spit and spit at the door.

Last time I saw him was September 2019 and he was drinking a can of malt liquor in a bus shelter wearing a hospital gown. Haven’t seen him since.


Yes there are boogers on the bus. One day I watched a grown man pick his nose and just flick the booger toward the floor. I’m not holding the kids I’ve seen digging for gold responsible. They are just children. But that adult, YOU ARE IN PUBLIC! Leave that mucus where it belongs!

Bare butts?

You’d be surprised how many people have a hard time holding up their pants or have pants that are too big for them, or butts that are too big for their pants. Bare ass has touched those vinyl seats, who knows if it was a clean rear?

Finger nail clippings?

Clip, clip, clip. Why yes, there is someone clipping nails on my bus. Why? Why are you clipping nails on the bus? Is the bus your bathroom? What if I came in your house or office or where ever and just started clipping my nails?

Yes, there has been animal poop too

One time I got on the bus and looked down and realized that someone had tracked dog (or at least I think it was dog, it’s hard to tell sometimes) poop onto the bus. I called dispatch and they said maintenance would meet me in enroute. Funny thing was, a trainer got on to give me a checkride (when trainers come and watch you drive to make sure you’re safe). I said watch out there’s poop there, but before they heard me, the trainer already stepped through it. Oh well.


Coffee, milk, beer, burritos, cheeseburgers, ketchup, Lucky Charms, milkshakes, whiskey, it’s all landed on the bus at some point. Now the real question is whether that brown stain on the seat is from coffee or chocolate or poop…

If there are so many disgusting things happening on the bus, why should I start commuting again? Why should I venture outside of my house? There are germs! And insects! And rats! What can I do to protect myself?

  1. Wash your hands!!!

Wash your hands as soon as you get off the bus for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Here’s some guidelines to help you out in case you were gone that day in Kindergarten. Definitely wash your hands before you eat anything or stick your finger up your nose or in your ear.

Do your part and help out, we got this Portland!

2. Change your clothes when you get home

This might seem a little like a move from Mr. Rogers playbook but it helps. Think about all the poop and bare butts that have touched those seats. Then think about your pants on the bus seats, and then think about your pants on your couch or bed with those bare butt germs. Just slip into some sweat pants or whatever makes you comfortable when you get home, and it will cut down tracking those germs around your house.

3. Help keep the bus clean

The bus is a shared space. A lot of life happens on the bus, and a lot of people ride the bus. It might be your bus for that moment you’re onboard, but it will likely continue rolling through the streets for hours after you get off. Help keep it clean. If you spill coffee or peanut butter or whatever, ask your driver for some paper towels. If you have to throw up, let the bus driver know or just grab that trash can. One time a guy asked late night on the 17 if he could get off to throw up and hop back on. I said sure. Happened twice more that trip, but guess what no vomit on the bus, and I appreciated his courtesy. And if you can’t not poop your pants in public, well, maybe stay home for now?

4. Wear a mask

We’re in the midst of a pandemic, you might have heard. Wear a mask to keep your germs to yourself and help protect your fellow passengers and drivers. They’ll appreciate it. And if you don’t have one, TriMet will give you a mask FOR FREE. So just wear the mask and help out.

5. Stay home if you’re sick

Don’t get on the bus if you’re sick. You don’t want to be the one sneezing and coughing on everyone, who then gets yelled at or hassled by others. Help out and don’t spread disease!

You can do all these things!

Covid-19 will pass, the pandemic will be over, and life will sort of return to normal eventually. What will remain the same though is the bus will continue to be a pretty gross place. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face and you will probably be fine. And do you really want to know where that brown spot on the seat came from?

This is a personal blog and while I am an employee of TriMet, the views expressed in this blog are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of TriMet.



Don Iler

I’m a public transit enthusiast in Portland, Oregon. I love public transportation, history and writing.