Monday, December 6, 2010

Seattle Snow Report Card and Some Suggestions


The Seattle Times and others have been evaluating Seattle's snow response and in this blog I would like to provide an in-depth analysis from a meteorological perspective. And I would like to make some suggestions of some new ways of dealing with the problem.

There is, of course, a deeper question: can municipal governments, or any government for that matter, be expected to deal with rare disasters? The Feds did poorly with Katrina, Seattle had problems in Dec 2008, and I think all of us could put together a similar list for other major environmental events.

However, I do believe that we can do much better with a little planning and creativity.

Background: Snow in Seattle is a big problem for many reasons. It is a rare event so the population and the various municipal agencies are inexperienced with it. We have hills so a skid can get real serious quickly. Our ground starts out warm and the first snow inevitably turns to slush before it is frozen solid by the usual post-snow "arctic blast." It is a difficult forecast problem because all the elements have to come together in just the right way for serious snow to occur (see my book for explanations of the last two elements). Because of the relative rarity, municipalities don't want to invest the considerable sums required to purchase enough equipment and supplies to clear the city quickly.

This is a very difficult problem and one that takes very smart moves and high-tech to do the essential job effectively and for modest cost.

Report Card:

The City

Mayor McGinn wisely didn't give the city any grades, but admitted that the snow got ahead of them. An intelligent answer. Personally, I give them a "B." First, they were committed to dealing with it and invested in additional equipment and substantial supplies of salt and other deicers. They put together a reasonable plan of using their limited equipment to clear the key arteries of the city (the only thing to d0). They put down large amount of brine solution the day before the big event. I know--I went to the airport the night before and was impressed: spray trucks were seemingly everywhere and the lines of deicer were on all the major roads I traveled on. These folks were working hard. As we shall talk about later, the brine solution was not enough and some of the problems (WSDOT's issues on I5, Metro's bus antics) were not of their own making. Finally, they are working hard to learn from what happened on Nov 22 and to do better next time.

WSDOT
They was the most perplexing thing about this event. WSDOT are masters at keeping roads open during poor conditions and they proved that during December 2008. But on Nov 22, something went wrong. First, they weren't able to keep I5 deiced. Secondly, they failed to open the northbound express lanes of I5, greatly contributing to northbound gridlock in the city.

METRO
They get decidedly mixed reviews. On one hand they acted very proactively before the storm---prior to a single flake they went to snow routes and chained up their buses. A gutsy call and it turns out to be the right one. But then they made some serious errors. First, when things got bad that afternoon, Metro should have pulled all their articulated buses off their routes--they didn't and many got stuck. A Metro bus was a major contributor to the southbound I5 mess. Second, they have to pull their buses off the steep routes where the danger was great. Too many buses remained on unsafe routes. This video shows you the results--thankfully no one was seriously injured. But that bus should not have been on that hill.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhZCyQ3emQg

But what really was maddening about the METRO folks is their decision to shut off the bustracker software EXACTLY WHEN WE NEEDED IT!! They have a lame excuse about the bustracker locations having errors when the bus go off the regular routes, but this make little sense. For most of the snow routes useful information IS provided. And they certainly could modify the bustracker website to provide what information IS there...when the buses pass certain locations. The truth is that METRO has been very slow in going to a GPS tracking system and have never given sufficient emphasis to giving its patrons good information about where the buses are located. They could be doing much better even with their current old-fashioned location system.

The Forecasters

You don't expect me to be critical of my own profession, do you? The National Weather Service did about as well as the technology allows--a forecast that was good enough to provide warning of potential trouble. The day before they were going 1-3 inches, mainly in the afternoon as a coastal low moved south of the Olympics. Basically, they closely followed their main high-resolution model (the NAM, WRF-NMM). If you read their forecast carefully, they were only going for some flurries or light stuff in the morning, but it turned out to be considerably more (1-2 inches in places). The coastal low was more intense that expected by their model and they had to up the forecast snow amounts during the day. The NWS was correct about cold air coming in later that day. I have to admit, my forecast was not as good regarding snow the night before. I depend heavily on the UW high resolution system, which usually is superior to the NWS NAM model for a number of technical reasons I won't go into here. But this situation was unusual and the NAM was better that morning (I will have a future blog telling why and steps we are taking to fix it). Essentially, the UW system took the coastal low further south and the snow shield only extended to south Seattle. The UW system recovered Monday morning with a very good forecast--in plenty of time to deal with the afternoon threat.

Play by Play Analysis

On Monday morning the temperatures were near freezing as the first pulse of snow moved in. Since it had not been that cold and this was early in the season (remember it was 74F a few weeks before!), the ground and road surfaces in contact with it were relatively warm. Even the elevated structures (e.g., the Alaskan Way viaduct) hadn't cooled below freezing. So when the snow started, particularly with generous amounts of deicer SDOT had spread around, the roads were fine. The morning commute had very little problems. People got into work and school. I even biked in with no hassles on the Burke Gilman Trail.

So far so good.

But then the problems began. The low center along the north coast deepened more rapidly then expected and moved across the southern flanks of the Olympics (see satellite picture below)


As the low moved south, it produced moderate, mild southwesterly flow that moved northward to meet northerly flow pushing south down the Sound (the northerly flow was accelerating toward the lowering pressure over the south Sound). The converging air streams resulted upward motion and bands of snow. But at the same time the northerly flow brought colder and colder air over Seattle starting around 3-4 PM.

Here are the temperature and wind plots from the top of my building at the UW that day. Temps were between 28 and 30F until just after 3 PM and then temperatures started to drop quickly. At the same time the winds started to become much stronger and gusty (see figure).Strong winds are important because they provide much more effective removal of heat from the surface. It is like a fan blowing cold air over the ground...much more effective for cooling.

And now it all came together. The deicer put on earlier was increasingly diluted by the larger volumes of snow falling into it until it became of marginal value. The air temperatures were rapidly dropping and the strong winds enhanced cooling. What would ice up first? You know what...the elevated roadways which did not enjoy heat conduction from the relatively warm ground below. The Alaskan Way viaduct iced. The West Seattle Bridge. And since much of I5 is elevated, it glazed over rapidly as well. Icemageddon.

Traffic locked up on major roadways. Plow and sanders couldn't get to where they were needed. Trucks and buses got into trouble. And the rest was history.

What to Do

What I am about to express is opinion...and I am probably missing key points...but I will go ahead anyway.

First, although weather forecasts are getting better, any new system for dealing with snow has to be robust enough not to depend on the forecasts being correct in the timing or amount of snow. It will be 5-10 years before the 12h forecasts are dependable enough for such work. We are quite good in telling you if the cold and winds will come. Or revealing a threat. But getting the exact amount and distribution of snow even 6-12 hr out is not here yet.

The Nov 22 forecast by my colleagues in the NWS were far better than what they could have done 10 years ago. It was good enough to alert the city and various DOT agencies, and to let the general public know that something serious was possible. Certainly KING TV and other stations knew--they were hyping it up like mad the night before. Jim Forman was getting his famous parka pressed and readied.

But if the forecasts are not perfect, what is needed is good nowcasting--a term in my field which means examining current observations carefully and intelligently extrapolating them into the future. There are 50-100 weather stations reporting in real time in the city. With this information, one could determine exactly what the temperatures are and track the changes. As soon as the strong winds and colder air started to push in, it was time to get out there getting rid of snow on the roadways and hit them with lots of salt. Using the weather radar and temperature information it is also possible to determine the snowfall patterns over the city (this will get even better next year with the NWS updating of all local weather radars to dual-polarization and the addition of the new coastal radar). With the information about how much snow is on the ground, where it is falling, and how temperatures are changing, SDOT and WSDOT should be able to do their work far more effectively...particularly in getting ahead of the storm. A software system could be created to pull all this information together...we could call it SNOWWATCH. Furthermore, the city needs someone with meteorological training watching all the observations in real time during these events.

Once the ice forms, you are in trouble. The key is to know when snow is falling and to plow as much of it as possible off the roads and then hitting it with salt (my friends in the business suggested prewetted salt when temps are cold). If the snow keeps up, you have to repeat.

Now at around 3 PM it was clear from the weather observations that bad things were about to happen. The surface chart showed northerly winds starting to pick up and cold air moving in from the north (see plot). The radar showed snow over the region (see plot). Click for big version.


3PM surface observations

Conclusion: it was about to get colder, winds would increase and the threat of icing was about to increase rapidly. At this point, all equipment needed to be used on elevated structures immediately, and when those were cleared and salted (solid not brine), then the other roads could be dealt with. Metro needed to pull all their articulated buses off the elevated roadways at this point...in fact, they should have replaced with with the non-articulated fleet hours before. Rapid deployment when the weather was clearly going to change seems to me the only viable option.

Question: Do any of the roadway surfaces in the city have real-time temperature measurements? If not, shouldn't this be fixed immediately?

In summary: I am suggesting a combination of the intensive use of all observational assets to provide a real-time view of the weather and road conditions around the city, and the flexibility to use the limited assets of the city and WSDOT to hit the big threats first, guided by these observations. The current state-of-the-art of weather forecasts are good enough to give a heads up, but not good enough today to guide hour by hour actions.

30 comments:

Sue said...

As always, excellent analysis! I would just add one thing.

Why were there still so many people in Seattle for the evening commute? I wonder how many businesses sent their employees home early. I also wonder how many businesses were cautious enough to tell their employees to work from home that day. (Obviously working from home isn't possible for everyone, but for those it is, why not keep them home?) Hindsight is 20/20, certainly, but it's not like we haven't seen this before.

As citizens, we need to take some responsibility, too. I'm not talking about bad Seattle drivers. When the roads turn to ice, I don't care how good of a driver you are, you've got a problem. In the Midwest, when the interstate ices over, they close it -- and it's flat there! And those are some people with serious winter driving skills.

I'm talking about making sure we get people home in advance of the storm. And sometimes the forecast is going to miss, and people will be home with an evening commute on dry roads. That seems like a small price to pay given what happens when the roads do turn into skating rinks.

Glenn said...

The poor snow forecast competence still sounds like feeble excuses to me, Cliff. I was in Lowest Hadlock that Monday morning (12 miles S. of Port Townsend). I arrived at the Wooden Boat School there for class at 0705. We had already started to have light fall, the stuff that doesn't stick. By 0715 it was dumping, we had accumulations before 0800 and by 1000 cars were stuck in the hollow between Port Hadlock and the turn to Indian Island on Rte 116.

Yes, some of your colleages did forecast the afternoon snow. But no one predicted the very heavy morning snow _North_ of the Olympics in a common convergence zone.

I am less than immpressed with everyone's forecast abilities. I did, however, have the foresite to put chains for all four tires in my truck. In the afternoon I put them on, and made it home, with a few tense moments as I slewed and steamboated up the very steep dirt road to our place.

"Nowcasting" I can do myself. I tap the barometer, look up at the sky and sniff the wind. Sailors and farmers have done this for millenia. I was kind of hoping for better from the pros.

Glenn,

Marrowstone Island
Jefferson County

MarkM said...

The bus problem is bad. Those articulated buses have drive wheels in the very back, leading to jackknifing and no concentration of weight over the wheels. Then they use those crappy chains instead of real chains. For now, Cliff is right Bag the articulateds during snowy conditions. Next buses bought should be separatable at the hinge.

Mantini said...

I have to step in on Metro's behalf. Pulling all the articulated buses is an impossible request.

They represent about half of the fleet. Pulling them all would result in unbelievable service reductions, more severe than even the new "emergency status" Metro has come up with for on-going snow events.

In addition, pulling articulated buses means no buses in the tunnel, which would only compound gridlock up top.

They pulled the most problematic articulated buses (the trolleys) immediately, and did as best they could manage with the rest. The number of stranded buses was nowhere near what we saw last time, and Metro managed to maintain some semblance of decent service.

I also have to seriously disagree with your comments about the bustracker feed - pulling it was a very wise decision. They have no easy way of saying which routes will be giving accurate information and which will not, so it is far better to give no information than to give false information that people might perceive as accurate.

jsreedy said...

Great analysis, Prof. Mass! I second the comments on Metro needing to be quicker with the hook on the articulated buses, *and* needing to upgrade their bus tracker system, and fast. In bad weather conditions in which one isn't sure when the next bus is coming (or if it even will come), standing out in the elements for ages and ages is not very advisable.

A minor quibble regarding the ideas that most of us hold about Seattle weather: Everyone keeps saying "It NEVER snows here, that's why we're unprepared!", but I respectfully disagree. It may not snow often, and some winters we get by with none at all in the lowlands. But it seems to hit here every few years, and when it does, it is always a disaster. I have lived in the Seattle/Tacoma area for 7 years, and I can think of 3 bad snow events in Seattle (plus one in Tacoma!) that were bad enough to shut down the city for at least a day or two: SnoMG this year, Snowpocalypse a couple of years back, and the big snow/ice storm of late 2003/early 2004, plus one a few years ago that hit the South Sound very hard. All of this is to say that I don't think we can get away with saying it "never snows here" and we're doing the best we can with a rare event.

C.P.O. said...

I like the analysis. I wonder what it is that keeps those agencies from making smarter real-time decisions.

@Sue - they actually don't close the interstates much at all in the midwest. They really are prepared and do a fantastic job keeping the roads clear. In three years living in the upper midwest I never saw any road closures, and that includes two times one winter when it dumped about a foot of snow in one night.

@Glenn is pretty tough on the forecasters. I don't think there's anything in this area that's more difficult to accurately forecast than lowland snow, so I say give 'em a break. Things are improving. And I agree with @Sue, we all can take a little responsibility and make smarter decisions about when and how we commute in situations like this.

dan said...

I'm not sure I would use the word "rare" to describe these kind of snow events in western Washington. Snow in San Francisco would be rare. Guess it depends what you mean by the word. I think we can all agree that it snows often enough in Seattle that there shouldn't be so much institutional and collective amnesia about how (and why) things can get so messed up on the roadways.

Emily said...

I have several quibbles with this analysis. WSDOT proved once again that it has no idea how chemicals react with snow/ice, doing the wrong things in the wrong order at the wrong times. And, as you said, they didn't do enough as the snow kept falling.

Metro compounded the problem with chains, which don't work on ice. Chains are for deep snow. The infamous video of the 43 bus spinning down John shows that the bus lost traction ON THE CHAINED WHEELS. The bus had a solid grip going down the hill until its back end whipped around and gravity took over.

And yes, Cliff, that bus shouldn't have been on that street, but Metro in its infinite wisdom decreed that the 43's snow route is exactly the same as its regular route, which is down John. Tell me that's not complete idiocy.

I would give the city a D rating, C at best. Points for trying.

KEN said...

I've got a couple of problems with this one, Cliff.

First: Rare? How is snow rare in Seattle? It happens almost every year. The city should at least be prepared for the amount of snow we get, not the amount of snow residents think we get.

And a B for the city? Because they tried hard in advance? Would you hand out a B to your students if you knew they studied hard but still botched half of the questions on an exam? Grade inflation, indeed.

zephyr said...

Why does WSDOT hesistate to close down the interstate highways in extreme conditions? I spent some time in the upper peninsula of Michigan and the highways were always closed during ice storms or blizzards.

People tend to stay put when they know state authorities have closed the road.

Ian said...

The phenomenon of snow on the Northeast side of the Olympics seems almost impossible to predict with accuracy. In fact, while I've seen the idea tossed around in the forecast discussion many times, it seems very rare that the forecast is successful. In this case, even if models had reached consensus on the strength and placement of the low, the finer details of the strength and trajectory of Fraser outflow would still have to be pinpointed to determine exactly where and when the heaviest snow would fall.

Seqium and Port Angeles schools were also open on Monday 22nd - snow started at 7:30, and was an inch deep by 8:30, but not until it had dumped 7-8" and the NWS announced a winter storm warning did they finally decide to close. I guess they kept thinking it was going to stop at any moment - but a quick glance at doppler radar would immediately raise the question "why would it stop?" to anyone with basic meteorological training. Better nowcasting would help more informed school closures as well. Also, it's not like this hasn't happened before - people have short memories!

Anyways I do like that the NWS went out on a limb announcing any snow at all, when some models showed none.

David Adam said...

Paraphrasing Cliff, I don't have all the information about what was going on -- but it seems from my point of view that the single worst decision of the whole event was the one Cliff skimmed over: Not opening the northbound express lanes out of Seattle. For the most impact on the most people, that one can't be beat.

Not opening them on a dry Tuesday evening with no sports events would have caused havoc with traffic; on a day like 11/22, it was a disaster.

kwdzin said...

My biggest complaint with Seattle was with the snow plan for the surface streets. I downloaded the map and made sure I knew which streets they were planning on at least keeping somewhat clear in at least one lane in each direction. In my North Seattle neighborhood, this did not happen. I'm glad I walked out to the arterial and checked before I got into my car, because I would have had a serious problem if I had believed the snow plan.

And I heard they were going to stop plowing to the middle (makes left turns and intersections really difficult) and plow to the parking strip. When they did finally plow, it was to the middle from what I could tell.

And I agree with Cliff that we have to take some responsibility, too, and stay off the roads if at all possible. The plows can't sand and plow what they can't get to.

Christopher said...

Cliff wrote "We are quite good in telling you if the cold and winds will come. Or revealing a threat. But getting the exact amount and distribution of snow even 6-12 hr out is not here yet."

I have a problem with your "quite good" at predicting winds. The forecasters have missed the wind strengths by a considerable margin several times already this Fall. Today is no exception. This morning, the Zone Forecast for the San Juans didn't warn of substantial winds. It wasn't until 3:30 that the NWS recognized that we were already getting significant wind,and upped the forecast "gusts up to 40 mph after midnight." Well, as I write this at 5:00, the wind is already gusting to 47 at buoy 46088 and 41 in Victoria (the Kelp Reef buoy isn't reporting so I can't record that.) I still haven't seen a wind advisory or warning.

To the uninformed, it seems that the forecast models have been consistently underestimating either the strength or the path (or both) of the low pressure cells coming through, and failing to give us adequate warning of the potentially damaging high winds that have been occurring this fall.

Seeingred said...

I just wonder if those who say "these events aren't rare and the city doesn't have the equipment and supplies to do the job right" are the same people who vote against EVERY tax that is proposed. No money, no equipment.

Brad said...

"There are 50-100 weather stations reporting in real time in the city."

There are also many amateur stations thru-out the Puget Sound area reporting conditions. I, with perfectly timed three days off from work, watched this past snow storm from that perspective and noticed that cold air flowed off the Cascade and Olympic ranges downward into the Puget Sound, these air masses seemed to coincide with the largest snowfalls. With that much data available one would think that it would be possible to make better predictions as to where and when precipitation were to fall.

HarrisonCZ7 said...

I do have to say that the snow forecast for Monday was missed entirely. I remember the night before you posted a blog showing the model output for snowfall. It had less than a half inch across Puget Sound, but showed 1-3" south of say, Tacoma. The models simply didn't pick up on this low. It was stronger, more intense, and came right over us, rather than swinging out over the Pacific and then slamming into Oregon. Not sure it's a forecaster's fault per say. After all, if the models fail to pick up on it, one is going with an educated guess at best. It's clear that most meterologists blew this one. But it's not necessarily surprising. These events out of the north don't happen all that often, and I presume models have a difficult time picking up their track for a number of reasons (terrain, lack of storms coming out of the north). I give Metro's response a C, and the forecaster's grade a D. Well, there's always the next one. As they say, you're only as good as your last forecast.

WanderChow said...

Agree with kwdzin about the snow routes. Same situation in our 'hood. Also the Metro snow plan seemed far more confusing than in the past. One link said there was a shuttle near by, another said we had to walk nearly a mile to reach a bus. Now we know what to do next time it snows: go nowhere. We can't trust the city so we'll trust ourselves.

pstransitoperators said...

Re: articulated buses.

A significant portion of the fleet are articulated buses. Pulling all articulated buses from service would drastically, dramatically, and disastrously reduce bus service to a virtual trickle. Try counting the number of buses that go by (anywhere) to get an idea of what percentage of the fleet are 'artics'. It's HUGE.

Metro relies on "snow routes" during times of snow and ice, with the understanding that the city and county will prioritize these areas for de-icing and clearance. Unfortunately, our infrastructure isn't up to the task, even if all available equipment ONLY focused on snow routes.

Re: GPS - great idea. All it takes is money. Got some? In an area where people don't want to pay an extra nickle on a can of soda, to tax income on people earning over $200K per year etc. - I suppose it's easy to criticize Metro for not having GPS. Doing so without regard to economic realities is a bit off-base however. I want GPS too. Who will pay for it? We're talking about a HUGE expense.

-jw

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

JW:
How much would it have cost to keep the current bustracker software online during the snowstorm? Nothing. Sure there are some errors for the snow routes changes...but the information is still very, very useful. I know...I have used it successfully when you folks were on snow routes. And why not get the most of your current system? You have the information when buses pass certain shelters? Put it online...or if you don't have any manpower, just put the raw data online..there are plenty of local firms and individuals that would write the code as a public service.

Regarding GPS...it really is not that expensive today. What about the expensive of thousands of hours of METRO customers wasting their time waiting for buses that are delayed or aren't coming?

So lets do something positive...make the current bus location data public and keep bustracker working even when it snows!

..cliff mass

Tony said...

fyi. Going from DownTown to WestSeattle in late afternoon by bus took 5 1/2 Hours!

Forrest said...

Cliff,

I agree with most of what you say here, but like JW, I have to disagree w/ you regarding the bus tracking system that Metro has.

It would have been absolutely and totally useless, for a variety of reasons.

1. It primarily works because they have data for each route regarding the distance between stops. The buses report how far they have travelled (a la odometer), thus Metro can estimate how far away from given stop they are. Like you pointed out yourself, it isn't GPS.
2. "Snow routes" is a misleading term. The routes change depending on local conditions and apparently individual drivers can decide to take other routes at their own discretion. Obviously, this makes the mileage based system Metro effectively useless.
3. Once traffic starts to back up, it becomes incredibly difficult to estimate the time necessary to drive between two locations. This doesn't break the system completely as it would still be nice to see a map with approximate current locations for individual buses, but trying to provide a guess as to when a bus will reach a certain point would be extremely problematic.

Now, all these problems are not impossible to solve, but they are tough ones and with the budget problems Metro has, it might be unrealistic to demand they solve all these problems now. Events like this are fairly rare and I'd rather Metro invest in keeping the fleet running well for 98% of the year.

As a 100% bus commuter though, I can't wait till all the buses are tracked via GPS. As a software engineer, I'm excited for the possibilities of such a system.

amy_mor said...

I've lived here since 1985 and my "now-casting" boils down to a couple questions I ask myself: 1) Is wind blowing from the north through the Fraser River Valley? 2) Is it snowing right this minute? 3) If it is daylight and the snowfall is increasing get home NOW! 4) Otherwise, if it is getting dark, but not sticking yet - get home NOW! This has worked every time. However, that being said, I do not live on the Seattle side where it takes much longer to drive anywhere due to traffic. In that case, I would probably just stay home if both snow and a Fraser wind flow were forecast....
I do not criticize the forecasters because now that I have read Dr. Mass's book I thoroughly understand the complexity of our winter weather - how quickly things can ramp up. Frankly, I find it refreshing to be kept on my toes and use my own senses and logic for "now-casting!" Keep up the interesting blogging Dr. Mass.
Amy
Poulsbo, WA

windlover said...

I'm surprised at the number of comments criticizing the poor forcasting for this last storm. I, too, was surprised at the 22+ inches that fell in Eatonville when the forcast called for up to 6 inches south of Olympia. But come on people! Until you've walked in the forcasters shoes and have had to try to predict weather based on computer models that, at times even as the storm is happening, don't always seem to agree, I wouldn't be so critical. It's easy to say after the fact that you could tell from this or that model, etc. what was going to happen and where. Keep in mind we have all the mountains (Olympics and Cascades), water (puget sound & the Pacific), the Frazier outflow, not to mention the convergence zones that can set up...none of this makes forcasting in the northwest easy! All of the area forcasters do what they do out of their love for their proffesion, just like you come to this blog out of your love for your hobby! Cut them some slack! At least they said it was going to snow! And as far as the roads....If you know it's going to be snowing then plan ahead! Stay off the roads so they can clear them! Go to the store and stock up ahead of time so you don't have to go out in the middle of the mess! Take a vacation day or leave work early or work from home when possible. Keep chains and supplies (food, blankets, etc.) in your car "just in case". We need to take some responsibility for ourselves and in helping in times such as this by doing our best to be prepared to not only help ourselves but to help others as well.

Just AboveNOAA said...

Utterly off topic, but today/8-dec there's a cute weather-radar XKCD comic:
http://xkcd.com/831/

I don't know how many times I've done the same thing. "ohboy there's a big storm coming1", then it breaks up just before it hits Seattle. Makes me think the city has a shield of upwelling waste heat or some-other unlikely notion.

Don Carter said...

Metro management seems to think it is a bus company, not a service. They can't seem to understand that they get people from one place to another and should put there efforts into doing just that. If there is a recurring problem in snow, cut that service off somewhere. This is especially true of the 358 route. Metro insists on sending northbound busses past NE 145--TO DIE! That means that there are no southbound busses.

After all these years, Metro management can't seem to understand that it might be better to run a lot of smaller, non-articulated busses on a more frequent basis during the year so that there is a smaller problem on snow days.

Operating costs for drivers may be higher, but they would be getting closer to what they should be -- providing a service of getting people from one place to another dependently.

Right now their moto should be, "Metro, For the Adventure!"

Erika said...

Seems strange to read about snow today... I don't know what it's like in Seattle, but here in Skagit county it feels like spring! All gusty and random, with the sunshine and occasional rain shower. And 50 degrees out!

pstransitoperators said...

@Don Carter,

All it takes is money. Blaming Metro Management for working witht he budget they're given and trying to run cost effective service rather than spending millions more than needed to accomodate something that happens for a few days once every few years? Great idea. Sell it to the voters.

pstransitoperators said...

Cliff,

It may not have cost anything to keep the bus tracker software online (in dollars), but the potential cost in misleading or misinforming customers is uncountable. If due to bus reroutes (not just to designated snow routes but around obstacles and other closures) would cause say 80% of the information to be inaccurate, as another poster said that is less than useless to the consumer. It's outright harmful.

As for GPS being "really not all that expensive today" - on what are you basing that claim? If you're under the impression that equipping the entire fleet of Metro buses with GPS tracking, the software to track each bus's position, the web-based interface to match bus position to bus stops etc. and the additional cost of maintaining a system would be "not all that expensive" - I'd love to see where you're getting your numbers from. It wouldn't be as simple as popping one of those $50.00 jobs that people put on their dashboards in each bus.

Again - we're in an area where people don't want to pay sales tax on their candy bars. Or say - support public universities. I'm in favor of moving to GPS - and I believe it will come. But implying that it isn't in place due to Metro's short-sightedness ignores economic realities not appropriately put at the feet of Metro, but the taxpayer.

Teresa said...

The Seattle snow strategy is essentially to try and keep essential services moving, but otherwise wait until the melt. And it makes cost effective sense, given the limited number and duration of our snow storms.

What needs to be done however to help perfect this strategy is we need to enact legislation that minimizes the numbers of non-essential people on the road. One way to do this is to enact state-mandated CLOSURE of universities or else a mandate that exams and required in-class assignments cannot occur when snow is threatened so that students have the option of staying home. The truth is it is NOT essential that students get on the road and attend school during threatened major snow events. This truth seems to be evident among community college administratiions, especially on the East side where we have November 22nd-like events more frequently, but the University of Washington hasn't figured it out yet. Ms. Wise seems to be "wiser" but Emmert certainly didn't understand. It is the height of arrogance to think that keeping school open is more important than allowing WSDOT to clear roads and allow the safety and security of travels by essential personnel.

Closing schools, or at least not mandating attendance (e.g. by forcing the rescheduling of exams and assignments) would unburden the bus system, as well as result in fewer cars on the roads that WSDOT needs to clear.