Seattle’s ‘Transit Fairy’ beautifies bus stops during the COVID-19 pandemic

Seattle’s ‘Transit Fairy’ beautifies bus stops during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Pauline Van Senus loves to talk about trash.

On a final day, Van Senus searched the mulch behind a bus stop along Seventh Avenue North to find cigarette butts, scraps of food, and discarded packaging while explaining their meticulous process of picking up trash.

Van Senus has been cleaning up rubbish at bus stops and other public places for years – in addition to working as a house cleaner, she said. Since the coronavirus pandemic restricted her paid job, she cleaned the transit stops for about an hour a few times a week, depending on the weather.

“My goal is to make bus stops convenient for everyone,” she said. “Seattle is my hometown. I want it to be nice. “

The appearance and condition of the stops are important to Van Senus, who calls herself a “transit fairy” and takes the bus everywhere. It takes her about 90 minutes on the subway to get from her home in the White Center to South Lake Union, where she often picks up trash. She also cleans bus stops in her neighborhood around Southwest Roxbury Street and the Westwood Village Shopping Center.

Van Senus, 63, is a longtime member of the Transit Riders Union and campaigned for the 2012 no-ride zone in downtown Seattle.

“Pauline is a great example of someone committed to the wider community and to the transit system we all fund and share,” said Katie Wilson, general secretary of the Transit Riders Union.

Wilson said more funding is needed for public transport sanitation, but transit agencies are struggling with the pandemic-induced recession and low passenger numbers that are generating less revenue.

“Someone who devotes so much time and energy to volunteering and return should be commended,” she said.

Jeff Switzer, a spokesman for King County Metro, said, “It’s amazing when drivers and community members get involved.”

The underground crews clean and maintain around 7,500 bus stops in the entire district, depending on requirements and usage.

“The beautification and maintenance of bus stops is something that benefits all of our drivers. We feel honored by their efforts and appreciate how they give something back to the community we all serve,” said the Swiss woman.

Like a fictional fairy godmother who cares for the earth, Van Senus usually wears wings in the colors gold and black of the Transit Riders Union. Your backpack is decorated with butterflies around the words “Transit Fairy on Board”.

She wears a silk sunflower in her braided hair and places similar floral decorations at her workstations to “visualize the goal of what a beautiful station might look like,” said Van Senus.

She uses kitchen tongs to pick up trash and put it in a small container or plastic bag before putting it in a nearby trash can. She puts sharp objects in a Pringles can or a water bottle with a lid to protect herself from bumps or cuts. She uses a knife with a curved blade to remove dirt that’s caught between cracks on the pavement.

Van Senus comes to this work through training and an altruistic mind.

“I have a service streak, but I never really knew how to get involved,” she said.

She always thought she was a nurse like her mother, but studied gardening and floral design at South Seattle College, which allowed her to combine her passion for art and the earth. She had problems finding work in these fields earlier in life. The pandemic has now given her more time to volunteer.

Van Senus uses a stick because her leg “got wobbly” a few years ago, she said. She has carpal tunnel syndrome in her wrists and after an hour of work she gets pain when she bends over.

That means cleaning an area can be a multi-day project. “The first time you go you feel like you never get anywhere,” she said.

When she recently completed a visit to South Lake Union, Van Senus said she had “reached the point of no return – but in a good way.” Although she found more and more trash to pick up, she looked around and felt good about her efforts.