The Route 90 snow shuttle on Pine Street (Bruce Englehardt)

Metro GM Rob Gannon:

Now that we are getting back to full-strength operations, we know that our snow response is on everyone’s mind. We are reviewing how we can improve our service during snow – and we want to hear from you about your own experience with Metro during this period. Your suggestions and feedback during the storm helped guide our response and communications, but we know we have more to learn from you.

The 60 routes and shuttles that were in service left some areas of King County without transit service (South Park, Renton Highlands, Newcastle and Vashon to name a few). Some of this is unavoidable because of the topography, but, when we can, we will add whatever mobility options resources allow to connect riders to the Emergency Snow Network. We are committed to serving ALL of King County, so we will continue to look for ways to provide alternative transit options for residents in areas where we can’t provide our normal, fixed-route bus service.

This was the first deployment of the Emergency Snow Network and I look forward to a post-mortem from the agency. I’m sure it was a challenging and dynamic environment to provide bus service.

One thing I’d suggest is that the agency consider how reliant riders have become on One Bus Away as a source of information. OBA doesn’t do very well when service is irregular. Which is sort of understandable, but putting up a banner in the app that says “please check the Metro website” that doesn’t include a link to the website is less than ideal.

Leave suggestions at the link or via email. The weather seems to be warming up, but there’s no telling when the next storm will come.

For Snohomish commuters, Community Transit also has a survey email

38 Replies to “Metro wants to know how the Emergency Snow Network performed”

  1. By having both “snow routes” and an “emergency snow network”, Metro is creating two different service adjustments for snow-affected service. It makes it hard for a rider to fully understand the difference.

    Perhaps Metro needs to differentiate the difference by calling it a Heavy Snow Energency Network or a Winter Storm Emergency Network?

    1. This is a great point. I would guess there were a lot of non-transit nerd people whose thought process was “snow on the ground = snow routes” and then they have no idea why their bus never arrived or did something unexpected. I probably wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t been reading this blog or happened to look at the Metro website for a specific bus route that the bus nearest to my house is 100% cancelled under the emergency snow network.

      1. Happened to me and about a dozen other commuters at my stop. Didn’t discern the difference between the two levels of snow reroutes until waiting for about 20 minutes at an inactive stop.

      2. Winnipeg, Manitoba Transit uses a two-tier snow service reduction. Level One is called Blue Service and Level Two is called Red Service. Much less confusing.

    2. You make a good point here. I kind of like the “Winter Storm” nomenclature for such situations.

    3. The acronym is already ESN, so why not “Emergency Service Network”? I think Metro would use it in other emergencies (earthquake, etc.) as well. I’ve even accidentally expanded the E as Emergency so it would solidify the mistake in my mind.

    4. Dean Wormer in Animal House put Delta on Double Secret Probation. What if Metro has a Snow Route, then a Double Secret Snow Route?

  2. Overall, they did a good job. My biggest quibble was OneBusAway not knowing the snow routes and stop locations.

  3. The whole system of snow routes versus snow shuttles versus ESN seems overly complicated and is bound to lead to confusion. Still though.. They made a valiant effort to explain and communicate what was going on.

    1. Oh yeah. Go look at the map online for the 255 and give yourself 10 minutes to see if you can figure out where each of the buses and shuttles go when they’re on snow route. Another crazy snow route is the 62 shuttle, but at least that one connects you to reliable Link.

  4. I was definitely confused at first. Under Snow route the bus I wanted to take was running. Under Emergency route it was completely cancelled. This wasn’t super clear on the website from what I remember either. Mostly due to the problem of, “what the heck is the difference between snow route and emergency route? Did they just change the name or something else?” Some people definitely didn’t know as I saw people waiting at the cancelled bus stop for a bus that would never show.

  5. I don’t give two hoots how things worked in Seattle during the snowstorm. I DO care about normal operations.

    I got stuck taking the bus home this afternoon – Tacoma to Auburn. I am starting at the Commerce St Transfer Zone, and heading home to my neighborhood. Door to door is looking like anywhere from 1 hr 12 min to 1 hr 30 min, assuming nothing is delayed and I don’t miss any of my two to three transfers to get home. I can drive it in under 30 in the morning rush hour, about 40 in the evening. Always a reminder of why I carpool instead of taking transit. And when a carpool isn’t going to work out, why I just drive solo. I live in King County. King County NEEDS to offer express buses for its south suburban residents to get to downtown Tacoma, the same way Community transit does for Lynnwood residents who work in Seattle. And it needs to take neighborhood service in South King seriously. This 40 minute headway during peak commute is a bunch of garbage.

      1. Local service coupled with the Sounder takes 80 to 90 minutes. It really is THAT bad. Also, the Sounder is on 45 minute headways and only offers three trips, one of which is incredibly early, the other two at the very early end of rush hour, only really accessible for people working an early work day or working right next to the station, which isn’t actually downtown. If I work until 5, there is absolutely no way to catch the Sounder, without ponying up for a cab or Uber.

  6. The routes I and my roommate used were fine, although I only used Metro on two or three of the ESN days. The biggest problem I had was some map ambiguity: whether the 75 would make its Campus Parkway stop or whether I should wait for it on Pacific Street. I observed some problems on routes I didn’t use: the 90 map was hard to decipher, and I saw a couple 10s on East Pine Street even though the ESN said they were on Olive. (I felt for anybody on East Olive Way waiting for them.) It was amusing to see the 8s consistently on East Pine Street but I assume that was their snow route. I rode a 7 from Othello to Jackson and noticed that the chained shuttle was pretty slow.

    Metro should send a postcard to everyone in the Route 90 neighborhoods showing when where the route will be when the ESN is active and which other routes will be running. It should probably do that for every household in the county. A lot of people have never been to Metro’s website, and the site itself was a confusing jumble of ESN and non-ESN pages, with multiple alert lists, only one of which was active during the ESN. People don’t think about looking for snow routes until a snow occurs, and then they might be out without a smartphone. And they may not know to look for the ESN, which they’ve never heard of. If Metro sends a postcard to their houses, there’s at least a chance they’ll remember the ESN and save the card until it’s needed.

    Sam can be glad that Metro is giving Newcastle the attention it deserves. As for this being a “PR measure to placate”, that’s assuming a lot about Metro executives’ intentions. Where is evidence to support this claim?

    1. 10s were having a really hard time and at one point were doing Pine to Broadway and ending at that wired loop at 10th and Aloha. I wouldn’t be surprised if the snow route moves to that if they continually have trouble going up Olive and John.

      1. 1. The emergency snow network should run the 10 via Pike->Bellevue->Pine->Broadway-> either E John (if possible) or Broadway to the Aloha turnback further north on Broadway (during extreme conditions) to ensure that buses do not get stuck on the Olive Way or E John inclines (this was already done on one evening of the snow storm, just needs to be communicated to riders). This would also provide coverage for parts of the 49 bus that are not covered during snow emergencies. Consider running a shortened 49 if fleet is available and 10th Av E further north is not passable.
        2. If trolleybuses go off route, operators should not stop a the next stop in an incline to remount poles. Head to the nearest level area if at all possible to avoid getting stuck. The battery backup generally seems to last long enough to make this possible.
        3. Consider adding at least some parts of Madison Av to the ESN. I understand that there are some steep areas (1st Hill, 25th Av to MLK), but these could be circumvented with a slower/more meandering coverage route.
        4. Go to a 2 tiered emergency network, i.e. “Emergency Network” and “Apocalypse Network” to make communication easier.

  7. Notice to the OP….

    The Community Transit survey appears to be closed already or there’s some sort of issue with your link. That was the message I received when I was redirected to the Survey Monkey site when I clicked on the link you provided for taking the CT survey.

      1. No problem.

        I think CT did a pretty good job overall of communicating with their riders during the recent snow events. The one thing I didn’t understand was when they closed a few of the Swift Blue Line stops, two of which are in my area. Perhaps they considered those stops as extraneous ones for the snow events since they aren’t fed by local routes per se. That made for a long trek through pretty deep snow, to the next Blue Line stop that was operating, for the riders in this area. (I actually saw a younger woman and her kid waiting at one of these stops that I knew was closed, so I pulled over and gave them a ride down 99 to the stop that was operating.)

  8. Metro has a record of how many buses got stuck during ESN, and where they got stuck. I think they should publish which routes got stuck, and where. You can’t fix a problem if you first don’t identify it. I personally heard one radio call come in on an ESN night where a route 65 driver said he was stuck at the north terminal, and, he said, there were two other route 65 buses stuck in front of him. That’s a pretty flat area. Metro needs to examine why and where buses got stuck, and figure out ways of preventing it in the future, even if that means changing the snow route.

    Knowing Metro, I seriously doubt they are combing over records of where buses got stuck, to learn how to prevent it from happing again.


    By my “read”, science of meteorology is saying that since global warming has blown out the controls on the Arctic Ocean, we’re headed for a couple eons of severe and lingering snow-storms. This isn’t first bus I’ve seen with snow-treads. For ski lodges and such, some of them are quite luxurious. And able to re-convert to tires when weather permits.

    And Engineer, my own pet project, tires or tracks, is to put the 594 on a half hour schedule between Olympia and Sea-Tac Airport, with stops at Dupont, maybe SR512 P&R, and Tacoma Dome. We could design a new “Special Needs” pass for legislators, just to get their cooperation. When Lynnwood and East Link get built out, Sea-Tac Airport will “Link” a hell of a lot of regional transit.

    Mark Dublin

  10. My only real gripe was about Route 90. Since most people have never heard of it, and Metro didn’t do a good job advertising that route. Even on their website under the Route 90 description it said it ran weekdays only, but the ESN was over the weekend and it was running.

    To Metro’s credit, I did Tweet them about that and they updated their website to remove the “weekday only” wording.

    But I live in an area with excellent service, and even during the ESN my busses were running fairly frequency until that last Tuesday when things got messed up and every single bus got stuck.

    Overall, I’m glad they had this plan in place.

  11. There was some confusion regarding route #40. Metro said it was on a snow route and updated their web site saying that it was not on a snow route just included in the emergency network.i am so lucky that I commute with that bus route. It ran great during the snow storm.

  12. For those of us in N King County, service was crappy. RTIS were displaying info for routes not coming nor advising riders that the Shoreline P&R was not being served. It was days before the signs were changed.

    Sidewalks were impassible, so peds from Shoreline P&R had to walk on the plowed street to reach the “Snow Route” stop on Aurora at N 185th. Trying to figure out the Snow Route Trip was painful because drivers didn’t adhere to it.

    Prior to ESN activation, buses were running chains on bare pavement so the trip home was jarring, extremely slow and noisy. SnoCo express routes were running without chains and passing chained buses limited to 30 mph.

    When ESN was activated, a trip from Shoreline P&R to downtown took over 90 minutes with the E. No E-express or limited stop to ensure a timely trip to Downtown Seattle.

  13. Coming up with better names is an obvious improvement.

    And perhaps coming up with maps that could be printed, showing stops would help, those living at the ends of routes should be able to give their address, and a map show what is within walking distance. The answer may be ‘nothing’, or only for the very healthy. But better to know than setting out when it may be beyond the person’s ability.

    And as always improving OneBusAway might be the most important

  14. Metro should consider printing Rt. 90 schedules like with any other route (at least for each September sevice change cycle), then distribute them on bus lines that travel through the Rt. 90 area. Mark the ESN clearly on the cover page (maybe make it a special white cover), and explain it all within. I’d take one and keep it handy for when it’s needed.

    1. Good idea. I was thinking of a postcard mailed to households. but a route brochure is needed too for people who missed the postcard or are new to town.

  15. Consider using the RR reader boards at bus stops to advise riders that the RR bus will not stopping at that bus stop
    Also use your RR reader board to give persons Metro’s actual email address that will have the information rather than just advising people to look at Metro’s web page but not web address. Most persons will be using smart phones and searching Metro’s home page to get to the right link is frustrating.

  16. The event does raise a more general question about how Metro should adjust service in an emergency. What happen if multiple bridges fail in an earthquake or a coordinated terrorist attack? This week, a major Nashville freeway is closed by a huge lsndslide. A few years ago, a bridge on I-5 closed the freeway. What happens if Link completely fails? What happens if a large areas of the County is restricted in an emergency, but not others? Contingency plans for several types of emergencies could then be conceptualized and honed to the situation at hand, including an action plan for messaging the public.

    I do have to wonder if any use of the term ESN should be ERSN. Since a primary intent is reduced service, shouldn’t it be dubbed the Emergency Reduced Service Network?

    1. A lot of the idea of the ESN is to avoid hilly routes that would be impassible if snowed in, and to stick to streets that the cities are plowing. Presumably, in the event of a landslide or a bridge failure, a different (ad hoc) network would be put into place.

  17. Summary of my feedback:
    Pretty good attempts at communication. Twitter account was working overtime, regular text/email alert system was fairly useful. Not Metro’s fault the Times and the news dropped the ball for other riders.
    Lot of drivers seemed to not have the same info riders had about what was going where and which stops were active. Terrible management to have that happen; storm didn’t exactly come out of the blue.
    Don’t care that OBA isn’t the official app, they stupidly chose to duplicate functionality in their own worse app that also had some bad info during the storm, it’s Metro’s responsibility to improve both apps.
    Metro’s website was awkward, sometimes lists were “these routes are operating”, sometimes they were “these routes AREN’T operating.” Shuffling through the dropdown of geographic areas to get full information on one single route is terrible.

    Metro offloaded a TON of work onto riders to figure out what was actually going on even when those riders had subscribed to alerts and were actively looking for information.

  18. I got stranded by Metro in the 91 snow storm. Walked from 23rd and John to 46th and Phiinney. During snow storm in 1996, Bus hit a car, kicked us out. Once again, stranded. Walked about 6 miles. In 2008, I was lucky. DROVE. This year was the only year since I was 13 that Metro has gotten me to my job after a snow storm. Still left for work 3 hours early. I would like to be able to talk to them (outside of a survey) about improvements. I think I deserve it.

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