You may remember a few posts we had concerning Metro’s unplanned “holiday” schedule that resulted in reduced service last week. With the same thinking as yesterday’s snow postmortem, I’d like to follow-up with a more forceful rebuke of Metro’s decision and how it was carried out. I feel that Metro’s communications were opaque and misleading, their planning was poor, and their web front could have been used better. You can read the full post past the jump.

What follows is five reasons why I’m disappointed with Metro’s operations last week:

  • First, December 29, 30, 31, and January 2 aren’t holidays. In fact, the lowest income members of our society who depend on transit the most are also those without jobs that offer much time off and are those without access to the Internet to discover unplanned cuts.

    If service cuts were necessary for fleet reasons and not just to save money, I feel like Metro should communicate that with customers — who would undoubtedly give them slack.

  • Second, even those who had their eyes on Metro’s site were not plainly alerted to this news. The news release with the announcement was titled “Limited Metro service again for Dec. 24” — no mention of last week’s cuts.

    The summary of the news release doesn’t mention the service cuts. And the news release was given no special attention on the main page until December 29th — the first day of reduced operations. This made it difficult for even diligant commuters to plan for service reductions. Sound Transit’s press release announcing similarly unplanned cut for December 31 had a clear title: “Sound Transit announces special schedules for New Year’s holiday.”

  • Third, those who did find Metro’s news release found an opaque and misleading explanation of the cuts:

    Because Metro traditionally has low ridership during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, there will be some service adjustments next week as well.

    The reason for the service cuts fall somewhere between a battered bus fleet that had a maintenance backlog and saving money after an expensive week of snow operations in the midst of Metro’s budgetary problems. And a reading of this sentence implies that this was a planned service reduction. It was not — it was an emergency service cut and should have been called such. The rider alerts on the buses had the same lack of transparency and emphasis on the unplanned nature of this decision.

    Those on the media distribution list and those reading the Metro site found a new release title that didn’t mention service cuts for last week, they read wording that strongly implied a planned service cut, and they weren’t given any transparency as for why the cuts were occurring. This is an ineffective way to deliver a message and it seems like Metro was trying to save face. It came at the expense of providing a clear warning to riders and the media.

    (In the course of editing this post, I read on Slog that Metro says that some of these service cuts were planned as far back as September. If that is the case, then it’s unacceptable that the announcement came on December 23 with a new release that gave it such little prominence and that the online schedules weren’t adopted to reflect those plans.)

  • Forth, the service reductions were poorly planned. To cut costs, similar reductions were previously planned for the last week of 2009, which falls on December 28-January 1, so the last two days of the week are holidays. A major difference is that January 2nd — not a typical holiday — fell during this year’s cuts.

    In addition, I wouldn’t be surprised if next year’s planned cut in service for the 194 airport bus were made with light rail service, which will be running to the airport by next December, in mind. Perhaps some other ridership metric that doesn’t apply during the holiday airport flow was used to conclude that the 194 should be halved in frequency.

    Since light rail isn’t operating yet, those taking transit from the airport last week found 30-minute gaps between buses and many encountered crushing loads once they finally boarded. (Which was my experience.) Anecdotally, it feels like plenty of people head to or from the airport on the week that follows Christmas and I don’t understand why the 194 faced service cuts. The 194 was running more frequently, in fact, during the snow storm than during all of last week.

  • Finally, paper schedule, online schedules, and Google Transit information should be worth something when the weather is no longer inclement. Even if the previous ills were addressed, unplanned service reductions are not something we can take lightly. And if one is going to have last minute service changes, at least reflect it in the online schedules so riders don’t plan for buses that never arrive.

We all of this in mind, we must recognize that the storm of the previous week was a rare occurrence. It would be interesting to know how much of these service reductions were necessary given how many buses were battered in the storm. If Metro needed a reduction of service last week for fleet reasons, then I guess we must accept that. The faults in communication, however, we cannot accept and Metro should not repeat in the future.

36 Replies to “Opinion: Metro’s “Holiday” Service Was Opaque”

  1. I consider myself lucky that I work for the Microsoft family. Some of my coworkers got food and supplies for me knowing I had difficulty catching the bus. A big thank you to them. A big thank-you to my neighbor who shoveled the stop on both sides of NE 8th (even though the bus wasn’t coming there due to the 230’s published adverse reroute). To the driver on my regular trip home who warned me I wouldn’t get to my home stop. To the posters who responded to my “how is the 230?” post a few entries back.

    It’s been just a mess everywhere and since my wheelchair doesn’t have chains, I was stuck. Thank-you everyone.

  2. Amen! Metro seemed to think that people use the Trip Planner every time they hop on a bus since that’s the only thing they updated online. Commuters know their bus schedules, though, and were very confused. I actually heard of the “partial holiday” from the UPASS people at UW… on Monday afternoon, after a few coworkers spent the morning waiting for the 372, 373, etc. which were completely canceled.

    1. Amen to that one. It’s been forever since I’ve looked at a bus schedule since I know my routes

      1. Yeah me, too. I went to the 242 stop, started reading this blog on the phone and then found out that there was holiday service. Luckily the connector was running, otherwise I wasn’t getting to work.

  3. I found out about it through this blog, and told coworkers – none of whom had heard of the holiday, and several of whom said “oh, that explains why my bus was so late”. They all modified their return trip based on the holiday schedules (I had to show some how to figure it out – avoid buses with an H after the time).

    If we want people to stop driving, it’s a terrible idea to leave them out in the cold when they try to take the bus. The snow storm could have been a great opportunity to show the benefits of a good bus system. The short time after the storm could have been used to reinforce these benefits. The first failure was somewhat understandable considering the conditions. The second is not.

  4. Is there any way some of you people with your great ideas can take it to the next step? Is there any way to get some of your complaints, suggestions, and ideas to someone at Metro who has the power to act on them? Would Kevin Desmond, the guy who runs Metro, take a meeting with some citizens who want to share some ideas for with him?

    1. Rest assured, people in the local transit establishment read this blog.

      I’m also supposed to put together a meet-up in the next couple of months. We may get someone significant for it…

    1. I know of one who rides the 594 all the time (granted it’s Pierce and it’s a ride to the base at Royal Brougham, but I get the idea). Saw her and chatted when I was coming back from my dad’s place.

      Maybe the Rider Specialists or midshift operators could do that. I wouldn’t expect it of the operators of, say the 4:14 AM #174 at 320th, but maybe those that start their shifts later in the morning and end in the evening before the end of service.

      1. The problem to me isn’t that the rank-and-file people don’t use transit, even if they don’t ride most are close enough to the service delivery end of things to be well aware of what does and doesn’t work.

        The problem is many of the decision makers don’t use transit.

      2. Chris, do you have statistics on how many drivers or maintenance workers ride transit?

      3. I really have no idea how many drivers and maintenance workers ride transit. I know a fair number do and some don’t because their shifts start or end at times when transit use wouldn’t be practical. As I said above I don’t think it is as critical to providing good transit service as ensuring a majority of the planning and management staff use transit on a daily basis.

        From talking to drivers it would seem a common complaint is many in management or planning don’t use transit and have no real idea what is reasonable to expect in a given corridor during a given time of day. I suspect much of this is the usual bitching about management you see in any workplace, however there would seem to be a kernel of truth to it along with the complaint that management doesn’t listen to what the drivers or maintenance workers try to tell them.

    2. A lot of them do already, because Metro HQ is right by International District Station / King Street. I think we’ll see the number go up as rail goes online, but they still will always have the inside info, so they won’t see a lot of these issues.

      1. i want to see kevin desmond take metro every day for 6 months and blog about it. i’d also like to live off of that bus line. i’m less concerned with the operators than with the upper management.

        in software, as many people on this blog surely know, there’s the concept of dogfooding – using one’s own product as a way of demonstrating that if it’s good enough for the manufacturer, it’s likely good enough for the customer.

        if the metro execs can and will rely on the system they “run” then so can the rest of puget sound. until then, it’s hard to take them seriously.

      2. Now that I would love to see. And it has to be a *REGULARLY SCHEDULED* bus. Not an out of service bus.

      3. As a Microsoft employee, we proudly eat our own dogfood (my desktop at home, company laptop, and personal laptop all run the Windows 7 beta for example)

      4. Just as important as having metro execs use transit would be to have the county council and executive rely on transit.

      5. I believe Bob Ferguson (KC Council) takes the bus every day. I can’t speak to the others.

  5. My cynical radar was out all through the snowpocalypse as I did feel that a lot of the service cut backs and silly holiday schedules were purely for financial/budgetary reasons – this community is not a ship of fools and shouldn’t be assumed by Metro and Sound Transit to be such. I think it is fair to pull some of the fleet and change the routes for logistical reasons during prolonged snow and ice storms, but not to prolong the effects long after the storms have gone. Sounder’s ‘holiday schedule’ is silly to me and way over long and must irritate those who have the schedules pre-programmed into their blackberries or whatever.

    Anyone know the latest on BRT?


    1. Ahem, Sound Transit didn’t cut service for the whole week. Just Metro. :)

      Sounder’s holiday schedule makes some sense. Downtown workers are a very high percentage of office jobs, a lot of that ridership comes from people who do get holiday vacation time – so cutting service does make some sense.

      As ridership continues to climb, I’d expect the holiday service to increase as well.

      1. Well I think that Metro has to be predictable in its scheduling or as predictable as it can be.

        I haven’t been riding a lot lately as I live in a part of Issaquah that means it isn’t a lot of sense for me to use two buses from the Issaquah P&R to get to Tukwila Boeing buildings, one of which is the much disliked 174 bus. So I basically missed all the bus problems during snowpocalypse but I do have imagination and it was running in vivid circles picturing all the snarlups.


    2. Metro’s basically out of money. I feel for them when they try to save some money, but it oculd have been communicated a lot bette.r

  6. Metro could really learn a lesson from WADOT on communication. The web site had real-time info about road conditions, pass closures, and major incidents. That same information was communicated to all of the media outlets, traffic reporters, and via twitter. Furthermore the WADOT web site didn’t melt under increased load because more people were concerned about road conditions during the storm.

    1. On the other hand, I never saw Metro’s site crash but did see the WSDOT site crash. I would like to note that the light snowfall Sunday night saw quite the rapid response on Metro’s website, with a lot of clear information about reroutes.

      1. I was unaware the WSDOT site crashed. I know ST and community transit had problems and the metro site got pretty slow for a bit on 12/19.

        Yes metro did a much better job posting info quickly during the Sunday 1/4 storm.

  7. Actually, I feel New Year’s Eve is more of a holiday than New Year’s Day. Sure people are out late on NYE and so have too much of a hangover on NYD to work, but still. (I’d be a teetotaler if I were 21 yet, so…)

      1. I don’t have a real job either (stupid economy), but I do know a LOT of office workers and such who actually do work on the 31st, although most of them are able to leave early that day. I’d like to see a modified schedule that limited trips during the day on NYE (but didn’t cut routes entirely) and added trips later in the evening and overnight for party-goers. That 3am bus from Auburn to Kent has saved my life more than a few times; New Year’s being one of them.

  8. Seriously, I can deal with my bus disappearing for a week.

    But where were the rider alerts? A simple sticky note would have worked. Anything!

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