Snow days are hard on agencies. Imagine chaining hundreds of buses and fundamentally altering your network on short notice. Doing so protects rider safety and is very necessary in a hilly town, but it causes a lot of pain too: it breaks transfers, hoses real-time information, leaves large network gaps (cough, First Hill or Wedgwood), and creates an environment of general chaos. Our periodic complaints are still valid, but agencies deserve praise for the sheer amount of hard work that goes into keeping the network functioning at some level.
But no matter how many tweets are sent or how many pleas are issued to sign up for text alerts, thousands of riders are going to do one thing: walk to their stop like they normally do, unaware anything has changed, and stand there for up to an hour or more. Absent real-time info and/or alerts at every stop, this sort of information vacuum will always be with us. But standing for an hour in the cold seething that your bus hasn’t arrived clearly isn’t acceptable either. So what to do?
In a word: stickers. As we’ve written recently, the basic dynamics of snow routes are relatively fixed. After all, the Counterbalance isn’t getting flatter, and the artic-killing hills aren’t going anywhere. So the structure of snow routes endure, and a stop that isn’t served today is unlikely to be served a decade from now.
Our neighbor to the north, Community Transit, simply places a crossed-out snowflake icon on its bus stops, letting riders know that the stop is not served in a heavy snow event. Our route signs have ample real-estate for such a decal, and we already do this for the NO LIFT stops that cannot serve wheelchairs. A simple sticker can communicate to everyone at a particular stop without any ongoing agency labor, and it doesn’t require that everyone check their phone or happen to be in the know. Metro should place these on their signs. It won’t fix everything, but it couldn’t hurt.